Racial disparities in school discipline are growing, federal data show

Black students faced greater rates of suspension, expulsion and arrest than their white classmates, according to federal data released Tuesday, disparities that have widened despite efforts to fix them.

The findings, drawn from the Civil Rights Data Collection, come as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering curbing the department’s role in investigating racial disparities in discipline. Those probes reflected efforts by the Obama administration to scrutinize schools with unexplained disparities in their discipline rates.

The Civil Rights Data Collection, which contains detailed information for the 2015-2016 school year on more than 96,000 public schools, offers more evidence that certain young people — including black, Hispanic male and American Indian students — face harsher discipline than their white counterparts.

About 2.7 million suspensions were handed out in the 2015-2016 school year, about 100,000 fewer than two years earlier. But the number of students being referred to law enforcement authorities and arrested on school grounds or at school activities increased. About 291,000 such referrals and arrests occurred in the 2015-2016 school year, an increase of about 5,000 from two years earlier.

Black students accounted for 15 percent of the student body in the 2015-2016 school year but 31 percent of arrests. Two years earlier, black students accounted for 16 percent of the student body and 27 percent of arrests. The data also show students with disabilities are far more likely to face suspension or arrests at school. They accounted for 12 percent of enrollment but 28 percent of all arrests and referrals to law enforcement.

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