Federal Watchdog: Students With Disabilities More Frequently Disciplined
A new government analysis finds that students with disabilities face a greater likelihood of suspension or arrest no matter what type of school they attend or how wealthy its student body is.
Across all types of discipline, the Government Accountability Office said that young people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted.
Though they represent about 12 percent of the nation’s public school students, those with disabilities accounted for about a quarter of children referred to law enforcement, arrested for a school-related incident or suspended, according to the report released this month from Congress’ nonpartisan investigative arm.
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GAO said that’s an overrepresentation of 13 percent for suspensions and 15.5 percent for law enforcement referrals and arrests. The disproportionality was most pronounced for boys and black students with disabilities, the report found.
The trend persisted even at affluent schools, GAO said, where students with disabilities were overrepresented in suspensions by 20 percentage points. And the discipline disparity existed at traditional public schools, charters, magnets, alternative schools and special education settings.
For the analysis, GAO examined data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights data collection from the 2013-2014 school year, the most recent available.
The findings come as the Education Department is weighing whether or not to revoke school discipline guidance that was issued in 2014 under the Obama administration. The guidance was intended to address discipline disparities affecting minority students and those with disabilities, but critics have questioned the need for such recommendations and argue it amounts to a federal overreach.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos met with proponents and opponents of the guidance last week — groups that included teachers, administrators and representatives from various education and civil rights groups.
However, disability advocates were dismayed that they were not invited to join either of DeVos’ two listening sessions on the topic.
“It is simply not acceptable for the U.S. Department of Education to intentionally exclude our community and not recognize that issues around school discipline climate and safety have a disparate impact on students with disabilities,” said Kim Musheno, chair of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. “Any event focused on school climate must be inclusive of the six million children with disabilities receiving special education in our nation’s schools.”
The Department of Education did note that outside of last week’s events, they have heard from a number of organizations on school discipline including the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.