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ACLU Lens: New York Times Highlights Data Showing Harsh Discipline for Minority Students and Students with Disabilities

Sandhya Bathija,
Washington Legislative Office
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March 6, 2012

Today, the Department of Education will release crucial civil rights data exposing discipline practices in our country’s public schools and certain juvenile justice facilities.

In a story published this morning, The New York Times provided a glimpse into this data, which shows that African-American students face harsher discipline measures than other groups. Overall, African-American students were 3 1/2 times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers, the Times revealed. And research suggests African-American students are often punished more severely for the same infractions.

Other statistics from the Department of Education’s data are equally alarming: more than 70 percent of the students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Latino or African-American. Additionally, these two minority groups, though they represent less than half of the student body, made up more than half of the students expelled under zero-tolerance policies.

Students with disabilities were also more harshly disciplined. Though these students only make up 12 percent of the student body, 70 percent of them are subject to physical restraints. African-American students with disabilities, though they only make up 21 percent of total, 44 percent are subject to mechanical restraints, such as being strapped down.

The Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) began in 1968 but was discontinued under the Bush administration in 2006. The ACLU and other civil rights groups successfully appealed to the Obama administration to reinstate the data collection and to expand it to include new categories of data on the use of school discipline. Today’s data, which includes for the first time categories such as referrals to law enforcement and expulsion under zero-tolerance policies, is an increasing area of concern for the ACLU as we continue our advocacy to end the school-to-prison pipeline for students of color.

“Those are extremely dramatic numbers, and show the importance of reinstating the civil rights data collection and expanding the categories of information collected,” said Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU’s senior legislative counsel, in the Times story. “The harsh punishments, especially expulsion under zero tolerance and referrals to law enforcement, show that students of color and students with disabilities are increasingly being pushed out of schools, oftentimes into the criminal justice system.”

In the News:

USA Today: Report: Minority students face harsher punishments
• Huffington Post: Minority Students Face Harsher Discipline, Fewer Options, New Federal Data Shows
Education Week: Civil Rights Data Show Retention Disparities

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