Education Law Prof Blog: Missouri Schools Suspend Black Students More Than Four Times As Often As Whites, While Disparities Curiously Drop with Other Forms of Punishment
The ACLU of Missouri has released a new report on school discipline and the school to prison pipeline there. The report finds:
The racial discrepancy in school discipline isn’t limited to teens. Our youngest and most vulnerable students in preschool and elementary grades are subject to excessive and harsh punishment. Nationwide, Black preschoolers are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended one or more times than White preschool students. Missouri has the eighth highest expulsion rate for preschoolers. From the very start of their education, the youngest students of color already face an uphill battle to stay in school.
The reality that specific students are punished more frequently and with greater severity is deeply troubling. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights found during the 2013-2014 school year, Black students across the nation are nearly four times as likely to be suspended than White students. During the same school year in Missouri, Black students were 4.5 times more likely to be suspended than White students. In Missouri, students with documented learning or behavioral disabilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) were given out-of-school suspensions more than three times as often as non-IDEA students.
Despite making up only 14 percent of the student population in Missouri, Black, non-IDEA students represented about 17 percent of all referrals to law enforcement and 18 percent of all school-related arrests in the 2013-2014 school year.
In-school referrals to law enforcement are not trivial. A 2015 report from the Missouri Juvenile and Family Division found referrals from schools represent 21 percent of all law referrals in Missouri for youth. Black children account for 26 percent of all referral types in the state. We also found an alarming increase of students in Missouri expelled from school. Between 2011 and 2014, the expulsion rate in Missouri doubled. This resulted in a greater number of expulsions for Black students, who faced expulsion at a higher rate than White students.
Another great concern is Missouri’s continued use of corporal punishment in school. Across the nation, few states continue to use corporal punishment, yet, in Missouri, Black students are almost twice as likely to be hit in school as their White peers.
This disparity between enrollment rates and discipline rates is not reflected among White students, a population in which discipline rates are consistently below enrollment rates.
Disproportionate discipline has both physical and mental consequences for young people. Beyond missed classroom time, when students, particularly younger students, are singled out for discipline, they are taught that they are “bad.” Their peers and educators internalize the same message. Studies show that by the time students move from pre-K to kindergarten, children can identify which of their peers exhibit “problem behaviors.” This perception is consistently shared between peers and teachers, creating a label for specific students that follows them throughout their academic careers.
What I found most interesting, however, may have been the report's data on in-school suspensions. This has traditionally been the most unreliably and difficult data to get. The report found that the in-school suspension rate for African American students received special education services was 26%. For other African Americans it was nearly 19%. Interestingly, however, the racial disparity between African Americans and whites was smaller in regard to in-school suspension and expulsions than it was in regard to suspensions. This raises a few interesting possibilities: 1) that schools are more likely to skip past in-school suspension for African Americans and just suspended them and 2) so as to avoid high expulsion rates, schools may be just handing out more suspensions. Both possibilities could be wrong, but something appears to be occurring with suspensions that is not occurring with other forms of discipline.
The disparity in regard to corporal punishment is also very low, but it is used so infrequently that conclusions may be less reliable there.
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