Disparities in Suspension Rates for Students with Disabilities

If we assume that being present in the classroom is fundamental to learning in school, then African-American students with learning disabilities are in big trouble. According to Lee Romney, author of a recent article in EdSource, “African-American special education students nationwide lose substantially more instruction time due to discipline than their white counterparts, according to a report by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard University.”

According to the report, the disparities nationwide between white and black students with disabilities is staggering: “for every 100 white students with special needs in 2015-16, white students lost 43 days to suspension, while black students lost 121 days.”

The findings surprised the report’s author, Daniel J. Losen:

There is a huge amount of lost instruction for black kids due to their suspension that is very different from what white kids are experiencing and it needs to be addressed. I was shocked and I’ve been working in this area for some time.

“A Grave Problem”

The report further pointed out that when students are not in school, they lose access to other resources, such as counseling, certain therapies, tutoring, etc., which can add to the challenges of students already struggling with academics. As the report concludes: “That is why the huge racial difference in the amount of instruction time lost suggests that black students with disabilities face an especially grave problem.”

This report comes at a time when fewer than half the states have identified school districts where racial disparities in discipline exist, despite the IDEA mandate to track and report that information. This analysis, writes Romney, found that “some of the states that reported no such disparities in fact, have the highest racial disproportionality in suspensions.” States posting the largest gaps include Nevada, Nebraska, Ohio, Missouri, and Tennessee.