ACLU Analysis of Federal Civil Rights Data Shows New Area of Racial Disparities in Public Schools

August 29, 2018 11:30 am

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NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union and the UCLA Civil Rights Project released the first in a series of reports yesterday revealing students missed more than 11 million days of school in 2015-16 because of suspensions.

The time lost in educational opportunity is strikingly severe for students of color and students with disabilities. Although Black students made up 15 percent of students in U.S. public schools, they account for 45 percent of days lost to suspensions.

The reports, which include digital maps and visualization tools prepared by the ACLU, are based on data collected by the U.S. Department of Education from every school in the country in the 2015-2016 school year. Part two of the series describes how millions of students attend public schools that have police officers but no counselors or nurses, and that students of color are more likely to attend these schools.

“These insights are shocking but critical to understanding the pervasiveness of harmful school climates,” said Amir Whitaker, staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California. “As the federal government considers using tax dollars for guns in school, these findings highlight ways our nation’s public schools are already strapped for important resources, and too often emphasize punishments — disproportionately for students of color.”

The data analysis also raises questions about the number of “serious offenses” that the Trump administration says occurred in schools. Only 3 percent of the millions of “serious offenses” reported actually involved a weapon. The administration’s report on the number of school shootings between 2015-2016 was also misleading. The ACLU’s individual outreach to schools included in the report confirmed errors in over 138 schools to date, while only 11 have confirmed school shootings.

These findings come amidst rapid demographic changes in public schools across the country. The federal data shows that for the first time in history, students of color make up the majority of public school students. When federal data was first collected in 1968, over 80 percent of public school students were white. White students now constitute just 49 percent of children in public schools.

The full series of reports can be found at

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