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We must address disparities in school discipline and decrease suspensions

March 4, 2015 – Letter to the Editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette –   The Feb. 25 editorial “A Place to Learn: Student Suspension Has a Role in Keeping Order” disregards decades of well-established research and best practices to promote regressive school policies.

The Education Law Center works with students and parents to battle high rates of suspensions alongside leaders in civil rights, philanthropy and law enforcement. ELC fights for fair, appropriate and effective school discipline to make certain that our students and communities get the most out of our investment in education — ensuring that all students are in school, actively learning and successful.

Irrefutable evidence shows that students with disabilities and students of color are excluded from the classroom more frequently than white or nondisabled students who commit similar infractions. The UCLA Center for Civil Rights Remedies report “Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?” noted that black males with disabilities have the highest suspension risk (33.8 percent). The disparities cross gender lines as well: Black females with disabilities are suspended at higher rates than white males with disabilities — 22.5 percent to 16.2 percent, respectively. The common perception is that these students are more prone to misbehavior when, in fact, research repeatedly shows that these students do not have higher levels of misbehavior.

Throughout our region, many resources are committed to eliminating the racial achievement gap and funding initiatives that improve school attendance. Without addressing the disparities in school discipline and decreasing the use of suspensions overall, neither of these worthy goals can be achieved.

Staff Attorney
Education Law Center