Federal Data Shows Public Schools Nationwide Are a Hotbed of Racial Injustice

Many students heading back to school are being greeted by more police and metal detectors, but few, if any, counselors — this is especially true for students of color. Beyond having more police officers who could be armed, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is reportedly considering a plan to allow states to buy guns for teachers using federal funds. 

Despite the research demonstrating that harsh “school safety” and disciplinary measures are detrimental to students of color, public schools across the country are enhancing efforts to lockdown classrooms, partly in response to the Parkland school shooting that shook the nation. 

As state legislatures take up the Trump administration’s call for increasing “law and order” with more school police, and as DeVos considers whether to undo the Obama administration’s reforms to curb racial bias in school discipline, it's important to take a close look at what’s happening in schools. A series of reports produced by the ACLU with UCLA (Center for Civil Rights Remedies, Civil Rights Project) analyzes new data from the U.S. Department of Education, collected from all 96,000 public schools in the country. Part I of our publication focuses on the 11 million days of school students lost to suspension in the 2015-16 school year. 

Dramatic disparities exist at the school, district, state, and national level. Black students were just 15 percent of students nationally, but they accounted for 45 percent of all of the days lost due to suspension. This discipline gap contributes to the achievement gap. The 11 million days of lost instruction translates to over 60,000 school years, over 60 million hours of lost education, and billions of dollars wasted in a single school year. 

Part II of our report, which is expected to be released in September, focuses on the serious offense data that has been highlighted by the Trump administration in its Data Highlight on School Climate and Safety. Our review of the data examines the severity of the offenses as well as the reporting of school shootings. 

Although schools reported over a million “serious offenses” in the 2015-16 school year, over 96 percent of these concerned fights, physical attacks, or threats without weapons. Only 3 percent of the million offenses actually involved a weapon, and less than 3 percent of all public schools reported any incident of physical attack or fight with a weapon. 

Every public school in the country was also required to report occurrences of school shootings on campus in this serious offense data, regardless of injury. Without verifying the data, the Department of Education reported ‘‘nearly 240“ schools reported shootings for the 2015-16 school year. 

A look at the data would have revealed apparent errors from entire school districts that reported a shooting at every one of its schools. For example, just two school districts accounted for 63 of the reported shootings. The federal data sharply contrast with initiatives like Everytown Research, which found less than 30 school shootings occurred in K-12 settings in the 2015-16 school year by tracking news articles across the country. As we’ve reached out to schools individually, over half have confirmed errors while only 11 have confirmed school shootings. An extensive investigation published by National Public Radio confirmed errors with over 160 schools. 

At Liberty Podcast: Criminalizing Schoolkids

One of the most important findings of Part II of our report focuses on the abysmal gaps in school support staff across the country. The study finds nearly 60 percent of schools enrolling 36 million students did not meet the American School Counselors Association’s recommended ratio of 250-to-1 student-to-counselors. Instead, American schools on average have a 444-to-1 student-to-counselor ratio. 

Also, up to 1.7 million students were in schools with cops and no counselors, and over 10 million students were in schools that reported police officers (also called school resource officers) and no social workers in the 2015-16 school year. Nationally, schools reported 27,000 sworn law enforcement officers compared with just 23,000 social workers. In his address to school resource officers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions boasted about nearly $75 million in funding that could be coming to schools under the STOP School Violence Act of 2018. Yet not a single penny goes toward equipping schools with support staff required to meet the needs of students. 

Lastly, Part II of our report also discusses the 290,000 student arrests and referrals to law enforcement in the 2015-16 country by state, race, and disability status. An alarmingly high and disproportionate number of student arrests or referrals to law enforcement were reported despite the failure of large districts like New York public schools, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and Boston public schools to report either arrests or referrals. 

In 2015-16, Black students represented 15 percent of enrollment nationally, but 31 percent of students referred to law enforcement or arrested. This is actually an increase from the 2013–14 school year where Black students were 16 percent of the student enrollment and 27 percent of students arrested or referred. As our forthcoming publication with UCLA highlights, persistent disparities also exist with students with disabilities and Latino, Native American, and Pacific-Islander students. 

As summer ends, students are entering schools where their liberties are being unnecessarily constrained even when the risks to their safety are minimal. Too many schools are wrongly investing in security systems and hiring police officers rather than spending their scarce resources on counselors, mental health support, and other services that could enrich students’ lives while preparing them for the future. In doing so, school administrators and state and federal policymakers are unintentionally harming the very children they have a duty to protect.

The data doesn’t lie.

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Dr. Timothy Leary

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics": Samuel Clemens.


Did anyone else actually read the whole article? They're actually implying that the disproportionate rates of crime seen between racial demographics is somehow the fault of those who are enforcing the laws and specifically not the fault of those committing the crimes. Listen up ACLU, if you want the number of blacks arrested to decrease, then somehow fix black culture and/or otherwise stop blacks from committing a disproportionate amount of the crime. In other words, stop blaming OTHER people for your problems and start taking responsibility for your life and your actions.


Focusing on getting the kids a decent education that will lift them out of poverty would help, too. It would make it worth their while to show up, keep their noses clean, and graduate. If you think your only option is a gang life, jail, and or an early, violent, death then why would you take school seriously?


The whole country is a hotbed for racial injustice. It is time to just give up and move out.


Amending the U.S. Constitution should be done rarely and with long serious debate from all sides, but maybe as far as "funding" goes. we should explicitly give that authority to the federal government. Each child in America generally receives the same amount of funding per child. There may be some additional costs for schools in certain zipcodes (inner-city schools may need more security and couseling while some remote rural schools may need some help with transportation costs, etc). Through gerrymandering, taxation and restricting annexing by bigger cities, some states are allowing some children to be harmed. States have had decades to fix the problem and there is ample evidence that some states simply choose not to. Maybe the federal government should control funding.

Laura H. Chapman

You said: "Each child in America generally receives the same amount of funding per child. There may be some additional costs for schools in certain zip-codes (inner-city schools may need more security and counseling while some remote rural schools may need some help with transportation costs, etc)."
This is not quite accurate. Federal funds account for about 13 percent of the money public schools receive. The rest is about evenly divided between state and local sources, with a small but increasing proportion of funding for specific types of schools (e.g., charters, for profit, online schools) coming from short term "investments" made by private foundations eager to decide who should teach what and why.
The federal education budget for 2018-2019 allocates about $1, 400, 000, 000 for so-called "education choice" programs. This money is not yet distributed but, about 7,000 private schools in twenty-six states receive state funds under four major choice plans, Vouchers, Education Savings Accounts Scholarship Tax Credits, and Individual Tax Credits. Of the private schools that receive these state-authorized tax subsidies, 76% are religious schools, and 14% exclude students and staff who identify as gender non-conforming. In other words, the huge federal budget for these plans will flow to states who are subsidizing religious schools and the overt forms of discrimination they practice.
Here is the little known fact. Parents/caregivers who opt into these "choice" programs are no longer protected by federal civil rights laws. In fact, the providers of education to "choice" programs choose their students and many want students who are both profitable and trouble-free. See http://edlawcenter.org/news/archives/national/gao-report-take-a-voucher-and-forfeit-special-education-rights.html


This article is a bunch of Poppycock. Mendham High School in NJ has resource officers and one of the highest percentages of graduating seniors advancing on to College. If you are fearful of the police, avoid school because of it and have done nothing wrong you have been brainwashed by organizations like yours. When you actually make someone accountable for their actions you will see real change and a better society.


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You call this free speech?? This is censored speech.


The biggest racial injustice is that many, inner-city and poor, minorities don't get the education they need to escape the poverty they were born into. That is the point of having public schools, after all.


First of all, the U.S. Education System is in the business of teaching your child to become a better slave, to serve a morally-bankrupt system and racist society!! The black child senses this, and resists this transformation; and the job of the teacher, a U.S. sanctioned, racist (soon to be armed with a gun) 'slave driver', is to force that child into submission by any means necessary, including expulsion.


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