Blog: Latino Ed Beat

ACLU: Rhode Island Suspends Latino Students at High Rates

A new report by the ACLU of Rhode Island finds that Latino and black students are being suspended at much higher rates than white students, relative to their student population size.

The report is based on an analysis of data from the Rhode Island Department of Education, between 2004 and 2012.

In “Blacklisted: Racial Bias in School Suspensions in Rhode Island,” the ACLU says that the racial disparity begins as early as elementary school. A Hispanic elementary students is three times as likely to be suspended as a white students, the report says. The suspensions also often result from minor behavioral issues, often characterized as “disorderly conduct” or “insubordination/disrespect.”

“Out-of-school suspensions are used too often to punish infractions that in no way justify the long-term consequences that suspensions can carry,” said ACLU Policy Associate Hillary Davis, the report’s author. “For minority students, reconsideration of the use of out-of-school suspensions is particularly critical.”

Eight of the school districts analyzed disproportionately suspended Hispanic students for all eight years in which they were studied. According to the report, Hispanic students made up 18 percent of students and 28 percent of those suspended; black students made up 9 percent of students, and 18 percent of suspensions;  and white students made up 69 percent of students and half of those suspended.

According to an article in the Boston Globe, the ACLU is backing legislation that would require school districts in Rhode Island to look for disparities in their disciplinary data annually and then develop plans as to how to eliminate any that exist.

‘‘I look forward to reading the full report that the ACLU has developed,” Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said in a statement, the Globe reported. ‘‘I will discuss with my team and with school leaders across the state any steps we might take to ensure equity and fairness regarding school discipline.’’

Earlier in May, similar concerns about Latino and black students being suspended at high rates prompted the Los Angeles Unified School District to stop using “willful defiance” as a justification for suspension. Defiance tended to include misbehavior such as swearing and not following a teacher’s orders. At the time, school board president Monica Garcia said she was hoping to stop the “school-to-prison pipeline.”


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