Study finds disproportionately high suspension rates for special education students

In a first of its kind nationwide study, the UCLA Center for Civil Rights Remedies has released a new report finding that students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be suspended or expelled than their peers.

The report, titled “Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion From School,” found that during the 2009-10 school year, about 13 percent of students with disabilities were suspended nationwide, compared to about 7 percent of the general population. The researchers analyzed data for about 3 million suspensions from data released as part of a biennial review in March from the Department of Education’s Civil Rights, according to an Education Week article.

“Because suspension increases a young person’s probability of both dropping out and becoming involved with the criminal justice system, it is difficult to justify, except in extreme situations where safety or the educational process of the school is directly and seriously threatened,” the report stated.

For black students with disabilities, the rates were significantly higher, with almost a quarter of these students being suspended.

“We want to take this report and say we know that viable alternatives exist,” Diane Howard, staff attorney for juvenile justice and education for the National Disability Rights Network, told the New York Times. “School districts and states both rich and poor are choosing not to suspend kids, so it’s not inevitable.”

In a January 2011 report, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Student Safety Coalition found that 22 percent of New York City School District’s special education students were suspended, compared to 6 percent of general education students.

In most circumstances, the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act bars school districts from suspending students with disabilities for more than 10 days during the course of a school year without holding a review to determine if the student’s misbehaviors manifested from his or hers disability. If it does, then school districts may not bar the students for these particular actions.