The United States Commission on Civil Rights just released its report, Beyond Suspensions: Examining School Discipline Policies and Connections to the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students of Color with Disabilities. The perspective is groundbreaking because while there’s a great deal of data about discrimination against students of color and students with disabilities, there hasn’t been a lot of study on how these two categories of students intersect.
The commission found “data has consistently shown the over-representation of students of color in school discipline rates is not due to higher rates of misbehavior by these students, but instead is driven by structural and systemic factors.” The concern is the inconsistent discipline of this group of students isn’t just a violation of their civil rights, but a factor in perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline.
The report focuses on “exclusionary discipline,” like suspensions and expulsions. It cautions that these disciplines in excess can leave students feeling disconnected: “students not only miss valuable instruction time, but they also lose a sense of belonging and engagement in school.” These students are more likely to be retained a grade, drop out of school or enter the juvenile justice system.
Students of color receive more, harsher and longer punishment than their white peers for like offenses, according to the report. Students with disabilities are about twice as likely to be suspended each year than students without disabilities, so students of color with disabilities are faced with layers of discrimination.
The commission recommends schools be given more resources to deal with some of this disparity. Their findings show a lot of the discriminatory practices take place in urban or low- income communities. They urge more resources for teachers and schools to deal with discipline issues.
Many schools have sworn law enforcement officers (SLEO) who are charged with school safety, but often end up with all discipline issues because of the absence of school counselors. The report finds students of color are more likely to attend schools that lack a school counselor “Latinx, Asian, and black students were all more likely than white students to attend a school with an SLEO but not a counselor.”
The commission recommends increasing the presence of school counselors who are trained and can be a resource for teachers and administrators: “Congress should provide funding as needed and incentivize states to provide funding to ensure all schools have adequate counselors and social workers.”
The commission presented its findings and recommendations to the Trump administration on Tuesday, “It is critical that all teachers are provided with resources, guidance, training, and support to ensure nondiscriminatory discipline in schools.”