During the 2015-16 school year, more than 2.7 million public school students received at least one out-of-school suspension, according to a new report titled "Beyond Suspensions: Examining School Discipline Policies and Connections to the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students of Color with Disabilities" from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
School data indicates students of color are overrepresented in these punishments even though they don't misbehave more frequently than their white peers, and they tend to receive more exclusionary types of discipline. Evidence shows excluding students from the classroom leads to school avoidance, increases dropout potential, and increases the chance those students will end up in the juvenile court system.
Students with disabilities are also at higher risk of being suspended than their peers, and black students with disabilities lost approximately 77 more days of school due to expulsion than their white peers.
Many school districts are attempting to reduce the number of expulsions and slow the school-to-prison pipeline that tends to disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities.
According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' report, the number of suspensions steadily increased since the late '80s and early '90s, but dropped by about 20% between 2011 and 2014.
Among its recommendations for continuing that progress, the report suggests:
- The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights continue providing guidance on compliance with federal nondiscrimination laws in school discipline
- All teachers be provided with resources, guidance, training and support on nondiscriminatory discipline, with the continuation of Congressional appropriations to support those efforts through grants from the Education Department and the Department of Justice
- The Office for Civil Rights should "rigorously enforce" civil rights laws under its jurisdiction to ensure nondiscrimination in school discipline
- Congress approve funding as needed to incentivize the provision of funds at the state level for enough counselors and social workers
Research done by the Center for Promise analyzed how harsh school discipline policies cause students to disconnect from school. Students in three Minnesota cities were interviewed, and their insights told of how they didn’t feel they had a chance to explain their behavior and that they weren’t being heard. The students also said that exclusion from school had long-term negative impacts on their academic futures.
There is some good news, however. When a number of schools used data analytics software to monitor student behavior, for example, incidents fell by 72%. Over a six-year period, the overall number of suspensions dropped and the number of total suspension days fell by 52%, while graduation rates rose 30 points to 85%.
Turning around the school-to-prison pipeline, however, is not so easy. Part of the problem is that money from prison lobbyists tends to support harsh school disciplinary practices, which drive students from the classroom to the juvenile justice system. But zero-tolerance policies that level harsh punishments for even minor school infractions, like dress code violations and small acts of theft, have fallen out of favor in recent years.