February 24, 2015
The likelihood that a student with a disability will be suspended from school appears to vary greatly depending on where they live, a new analysis finds.
Nationwide, nearly 1 in 5 students with disabilities were given out-of-school suspensions during the 2011-2012 school year. That’s a rate about twice that of their typically-developing peers, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education.
However, a new analysis of the figures — the most recent available — finds the discipline was not handed out uniformly across the country.
High school students with disabilities in Florida were most likely to be suspended, with 37 percent of such kids given an out-of-school suspension. Florida was followed by Nevada, Delaware, South Carolina and Louisiana which also reported high use of the disciplinary measure among kids with disabilities.
By contrast, just 5 percent of high school students with disabilities in North Dakota were suspended, the fewest of any state. Other places with lower suspension rates for this population included Utah and Idaho, according to the review from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles.
What’s more, when researchers assessed the situation at the school district level, they found even greater disparities. Across the country, some 37 districts suspended more than 25 percent of their elementary school students with disabilities, including one district where over half of those with special needs were suspended.
The high level of suspensions among students with disabilities raises questions, the report suggests, about whether such children are unlawfully being taken out of class due to behavior issues related to their disabilities.
Beyond disabilities, the analysis also found significant variation in suspension rates based on race.
“Our nation cannot close the achievement gap if our educators ignore the discipline gap,” said Daniel J. Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies and an author of the report. “Educators have an opportunity for serious and successful reform in this area and are legally and morally obligated to take action.”