Office for Civil Rights Data Suggests Racial and Disability Status Disparities in Discipline, Restraint, and Seclusion
The Office for Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) aggregates data nationally. They recently released a report, which I’ve uploaded here. The report contains some statistics that come as no surprise to advocates but are still very disturbing. I’ve pulled out a few of the figures in this post.
Let’s start with racial disparities in discipline. As the following figure illustrates, African-American students represent 18% of students in the CRDC sample, but 35% of students suspended once, 46% of those suspended more than once, and 39% of students expelled.
In contrast to African-American students, the rates of discipline in Hispanic students appears to be comparable to their rates in the general sample. Asian-Pacific students have lower rates of discipline compared to their rates in the general sample. White students make up 51% of the general sample, but only 39% of those being expelled.
So how do we explain these data? And what do we do with them?
The data on disability and discipline are also of concern. CRDC’s data show that students with disabilities who are classified under I.D.E.A. are more than twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions than their non-disabled peers.
Why the significant discrepancy? If the students’ disabilities are related to behavioral problems, those problems should be addressed in behavior intervention plans with positive supports. Why are we throwing children out of school at higher rates if they have disabilities? Could it be that school personnel are looking to get a break from challenging students and so suspend them more readily? Or is it the case that school personnel generally lack adequate training and skills to manage the behavioral features of some disabilities and don’t know what else to do?
Students with disabilities are also significantly more likely to be physically restrained than their non-disabled peers. Nearly 70% of restrained students have disabilities even though they comprise only 12% of the general sample.
When we look at the seclusion data for students with disabilities, it appears that Hispanic students with disabilities are at disproportionate risk of being put into seclusion rooms:
Disappointingly, the data collection does not provide any analysis of seclusion data on the basis of disability vs. no disability. Since seclusion is only supposed to be use for emergency situations in which there is an imminent risk of injury to the student or others, such data might shed some light on how often these rooms are actually being used – or overused.
Keep in mind that these patterns may not accurately reflect the state of discipline your school district. The report provides a comparison chart for some major urban school districts but they also note that their methodology in data collection may limit interpretations:
The CRDC has generally been collected biennially from school districts in each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. The CRDC for SY 2009-10 was collected in two parts. Part 1 is beginning-of-year “snapshot” data and Part 2 is cumulative and end-of-year data. The 2009-10 CRDC contains information on about 7,000 school districts and over 72,000 schools in those districts. It is important to note that the CRDC does not include data from all school and districts in the nation, although it does include data from all districts with greater than 3,000 students and 85% of all students. The conclusions in this report therefore apply only to these districts and schools sampled.
In other words, we need to be caution in drawing any conclusions from the data. But it’s always the case that we need to be cautious in drawing conclusions and that should not stop us from pointing to data that suggests discriminatory handling and asking, “What do we need to do better?”
Here’s a media report from Associated Press on the report and reactions to it.
Two more cases in the news – one from Virginia and one in New Jersey – should serve as wake-up calls that it is time to call for a nationwide moratorium on zero tolerance policies that may not make our schools safer, that criminalize normal child misbehavior, and that may ruin young lives.
Kevin Sieff reports:
Andrew Mikel II admits it was a stupid thing to do. In December, bored and craving attention, the 14-year-old used a plastic tube to blow small plastic pellets at fellow students in Spotsylvania High School. In one lunch period, he scored three hits.
“They flinched. They looked annoyed,” Mikel said.
The school district saw it as more than a childish prank. School officials expelled him for possession and use of a weapon, and they called a deputy sheriff to the scene, said Mikel and his father, Andrew Mikel Sr.
The younger Mikel, a freshman, said he was charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault.
The federal Gun-Free Schools Act mandates that schools expel students who take weapons, including hand guns, explosive devices and projectile weapons, to school. E-mail traffic among school officials showed they ruled that Mikel’s plastic tube, which was fashioned from a pen casing, met the definition of a projectile weapon because it was “used to intimidate, threaten or harm others.”
The Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville civil liberties organization, is appealing the case in state Circuit Court.
Read more about this case in the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, in the New Jersey case, Teresa Masterson and David Chang report:
A 7-year-old child allegedly shot a Nerf-style toy gun in his Hammonton, N.J., school Jan. 18. No one was hurt, but the pint-size softshooter now faces misdemeanor criminal charges.
Hammonton Police began an investigation into the “suspicious activity” at the Hammonton Early Childhood Education Center Jan. 18 after school officials alerted them to the incident.
The “gun” the child brought to school was a $5 toy gun, similar to a Nerf gun, that shoots soft ping pong type balls, according to the school’s superintendent.
Officials also say that there was no evidence of anyone being threatened. The child’s mother told school officials that she didn’t know her son brought the toy to school.
Dr. Dan Blachford, the Hammonton Board of Education superintendent, said the school has a zero tolerance policy.
Police charged the 7-year-old with possessing an imitation firearm in or on an education institution – a misdemeanor and a minor juvenile offense in New Jersey.
Read more about this case on NBC Philadelphia.
I have long called for the return of some common sense and abolition of zero-tolerance policies that have not accomplished their intended purpose and that create other problems, including possibly discriminatory application to disabled and minority students.
Zero-tolerance policies were enacted after the tragedy at Columbine. We now have more than ten years’ of experience with them. Where are the data showing that they have made schools safer? What is the evidence that they may have done harm?
It is time for a moratorium on enforcing zero-tolerance policies for offenses that are often normal child misbehavior until experts can all come together to review available data and ensure that we are not treating children like criminals for normal misbehavior and that such policies are not disenfranchising disabled and minority students from their right to a free appropriate public education.
Carousel image courtesy of freeimages.co.uk
I cannot begin to convey how much respect I am losing for some school districts for their seeming inability to handle normal misbehavior in anything other than over-the-top ways. Consider this news story out of Texas today by Ray Leszcynski of the Dallas Morning News:
North Mesquite High School senior Victoria Mullins is taking on a waitressing job to pay $637 in fines and other charges after being ticketed for disorderly conduct/abusive language in class.
According to court records, shortly before 10 a.m. on Oct. 6, teacher Michelle Lene heard Mullins say “you trying to start [expletive]!” loudly inside the classroom.
Court records? COURT? For foul language in class? Seriously, people?
Apparently, the student was initially given lunch detention, which should have been the end of it all, except that it seems that the teacher contacted the school resource officer (SRO) to complain that she was offended by the student’s language. When the student arrived at her next class, the SRO gave the 17 year-old the ticket.
The complaint says Lene was offended, and that by its utterance, the language incited a breach of the peace.
If the teacher’s sensibilities are such that she takes offense at such language, perhaps she should seek reassignment or retire to protect her sensibilities. Really. Get out of teaching. Do yourself a favor and do the students a favor. If that sounds harsh, so be it. People who can’t handle normal misbehavior do not belong in the classroom.
The original fine was $340. Mullins pleaded not guilty Oct. 21 but reportedly failed to show up for her Nov. 18 court hearing.
The failure to show was cause for a $100 penalty. The city tacked on another $50 when it issued a warrant for Mullins’ arrest Jan. 21 and then a $147 collection fee.
Arrest? For cursing in class? A criminal record?
And to make matters worse, the school district then sends home precisely the wrong message:
School district spokesman Ian Halperin said the incident should be a reminder to parents.
“If your kids do something, there’s a way to handle it to mitigate these situations before you get to this point,” Halperin said.
The district is in no position to counsel parents on what to teach their children after having totally bungled the handling of what was a minor incident, at worst.
If the incident should remind parents of anything, it should serve to remind them that not all teachers have a sense of proportion and that some schools are not there to serve our children. All too often, it seems that they are there to back the outrageous decisions of their staff, create a police state climate by the presence of SRO’s, and to show no regard for the difficult economic straits in which some families find themselves in a tough economy.
With no apparent recognition of the irony, the reporter also writes:
The [SRO] program is also designed to create positive relationships between the students and officers. SROs are to serve as mentors, counselors, teachers and role models for the students, officials said.
Yes, that was really solid mentoring by that SRO, wasn’t it?
By the way, have any Mesquite teachers or school administrators ever cursed in the building in the presence of others? If so, have they been ticketed for breaching the peace?
Alan Riquelmy reports on another zero tolerance case – this one in Georgia – where lives may be ruined by rigid application of policies:
A mother and daughter face drug charges after Baker Middle School officials found Ibuprofen in the girl’s purse, Columbus police said.
Principal Marvin Crumbs learned Monday morning that the 12-year-old might have a knife in her purse. As he searched through her purse, he found a bottle of 12 pills, reports state.
The bottle was labeled as Ibuprofen, 800 milligrams with 15 tablets. It had 11 whole pills and one pill broken in half. The medication from Martin Army Community Hospital had no patient or doctor’s name on it, police said.
According to state law, Ibuprofen is classified as a dangerous drug if a single dose is more than 200 milligrams. Pharmacist Terry Hurley, owner of Dinglewood Pharmacy, said 200 milligrams is the cap for over-the-counter Ibuprofen sales. Dosages that are 400 and 800 milligrams are prescription only, he said.
Officials contacted the girl’s 35-year-old mother, who told the school she gave her daughter the pills. The mother also said that she knows a nurse who works on Fort Benning who gave her the pills, police report.
School policy states that school officials must contact police when any drugs are found on campus.
The mother was charged with distributing a dangerous drug. The daughter was charged with possession of a dangerous drug, police said.
So the mother and daughter may wind up with serious criminal records or face jail over this? Is there really no option to simply call the mother and child in and educate them and/or give them a warning?
Some days I really despair about what goes on in schools.
In yet what appears to be another case of zero tolerance over-reaction or flat out abuse of anti-terrorism statutes, the Ridgeview Charter Middle School in Atlanta not only suspended an autistic 14-year old with an IQ of 75 for a stick figure drawing of him pointing a gun at his teacher, but he has been charged by the police with a “terrorist threat,” which is a felony.
In case you missed the limited news coverage a few weeks ago, here’s a report on the Shane Finn case so that you can get some of the background:
Adam Baldwin provides some details on the relevant laws.