Black students and children with special needs are more likely to be suspended, expelled and punished with physical force in Missouri schools, according to a report released Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.
The revelation is not a new one for school and civil rights advocates who have studied discipline issues in Missouri since the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles ranked the state first in the nation for the suspension of black elementary school students in 2015.
The UCLA report, meant to highlight discipline and educational disparities, thrust Missouri into the national spotlight and ignited a conversation about reforming discipline in Missouri schools.
It’s an issue that Kansas City officials have said affects local students.
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Earlier this year, at a suspension summit hosted by Mayor Sly James and the Kansas City Health Department, educators and city leaders discussed the implications of state data showing that elementary and middle school students who attended a school with a Kansas City ZIP code last year were five times more likely to be suspended if they were black than if they were white.
The ACLU’s report calls for changes in policies to keep students from missing out on valuable classroom time and to curb disparities between student groups.
Here are highlights from the ACLU report, which used data from the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education and state data:
Nineteen states, including Missouri, permit corporal punishment at school.
In Missouri, incidences of corporal punishment have increased, particularly for black students and students with special needs.
In 2009, 38 out of 100 black students were punished by physical force, such as spanking or hitting, compared to 22 percent of white students.
In 2013, 59 percent of black students and 32 percent of white students received corporal punishment.
Students with special needs received corporal punishment at the highest rates.
In 2013, physical force was used to discipline 67 percent of black students with special needs and 48 percent of white students with special needs.
During the 2013-14 school year, more than 16,000 students with special needs received in-school suspensions.
Black students received 29 percent of those suspensions, even though black students make up only 16 percent of Missouri students who have special needs.
Black students with special needs received out-of-school suspensions at a higher rate than any other group statewide during that year, the report states. Though expulsion is “relatively rare” in Missouri, data do show racial disparities.
“Out of school suspension is correlated with greater misconduct, higher dropout rates and more frequent contact with the juvenile justice system as children, as well as later criminal justice system contact as adults,” the report states.
It costs $89,170 a year to pay for one child in a juvenile justice facility, compared to $10,802 per in-school student, the report said.
The report highlights reforms used in other states to curb the use of suspension, particularly for young children.
In states such as Rhode Island, suspensions are used only as a disciplinary measure when a student threatens school safety.
Other states and cities, including St. Louis, have limited the use of out-of-school suspensions for young children.
School districts have also been encouraged to improve the way they document student discipline to make it easier to review practices for bias or disparity.
Initiatives to keep students in school have led to other policy changes at the school level. Does it make sense to give students out-of-school suspensions for truancy? Should students sit quietly during in-school suspension, or should there be some kind of instruction?
“Our education system must keep students in school and provide them with an educational foundation so they can succeed as adults and contribute to our communities,” the report states.