Monday, April 20, 2015

Disparities in School Discipline Practices

The Contra Costa Times reported last month on an important story related to school discipline in the context of special education.  The article reports that the Antioch Unified School District was approached by advocates for students of color and advocates of students with disabilities over allegations related to disproportionalities in disciplinary practices.  A lawsuit was threatened regarding disparities in the way students with disabilities and students with color are disciplined.  The Antioch Unified School District has reportedly agreed to allow a third-party review of discipline practices and of its special education program, intended to study possible "implicit bias" that may exist and to determine appropriate recommendations in order for the District to alter its practices.

The full text of the article in the Contra Costa Times can be read here:

Disproportionality in discipline practices and within the special education system is a huge problem, and it is not a problem unique to this one individual school district.  Various studies and reports have for years reported on this problem, indicating again and again that students who are African American or Hispanic are disciplined at disproportionate rates than their Caucasian peers, and disciplined for infractions that students who are white are not disciplined for.  (See for example:  the Office of Civil Rights' 2012 Report to the President; Research Resources on Racial Disparity in School Discipline from The Civil Rights Project at UCLA;  OCR's Expansive Survey of American Public Schools.  
The disparity problem isn't solely about racial inequities in the discipline systems either.  Research data also shows that students with disabilities are disciplined at disproportionate rates than their non-disabled peers, something that all of us working in this field can likely attest to from first hand experience.  In fact, students with disabilities are more than twice as likely as students without disabilities to be suspended from school.  (Source:  Federal Data from National Survey, 2012, as reported in the Washington Post).  As if that fact were not bad enough, there also continues to be a problem of students with disabilities being subjected to restraints and seclusion, often as a means of disciplining the student or "controlling" behavior.  (Read more:  New York Times: A Terrifying Way to Discipline Students; Huffington Post:  Still A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children; COPAA:  Every Child Has the Right to Be Safe in School)When taken together, the existence of these issues lead to a very real, very dangerous, very harmful situation in schools for many of our students.  

Let's be clear: when students are subjected to disciplinary practices or restraints and seclusion due to the fact that they are disabled or African American, this is a discrimination issue.  It is a safety issue.  it is a fairness issue.  It is an issue that is contributing to young people being on a path to prison, rather than a path to productivity and independence.  And it is a civil rights issue.  It is time for society to recognize this and stand up for the civil rights of students!

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