By:  Benjamin Wermund
Source: Politico

Government Watchdog Finds School Discipline Hits Hardest at Black Students

Black students, boys and students with disabilities are all disproportionately disciplined in the nation's public schools, according to a new report Wednesday by the GAO — released as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos mulls a repeal of Obama-era discipline guidance aimed at curbing such disparities.

Black students by far bear the brunt of every type of discipline — from in-school suspensions to expulsions and school-related arrests — according to the government watchdog report, which analyzes civil rights data from the 2013-14 school year, the most recent available.

For example, the report found that while there were more than 17 million more white students than black students attending public schools during the 2013-14 school year, nearly 176,000 more black students were suspended from school that year.

And while black students accounted for 15.5 percent of all public school students, they represented about 39 percent of students suspended from school — an overrepresentation of about 23 percentage points.

Boys overall were more often disciplined than girls, but the pattern of disproportionate discipline affected both black boys and black girls — the only racial group for which both sexes were disproportionately disciplined in every way, according to the report.

The report came as DeVos on Wednesday heard from supporters and opponents of Obama-era guidance aimed at curbing racial disparities in school discipline and the overuse of harsh policies, like out-of-school suspensions, expulsions and school-based arrests for nonviolent offenses.

Debates around discipline practices and the Obama-era guidance erupted in the weeks following the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead as conservatives argued the Obama guidelines can keep violent students in school, endangering others.

The White House school safety commission DeVos is leading is considering repealing the guidance. There's no evidence to suggest that those policies had anything to do with the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, POLITICO has reported.

The GAO report provides evidence that the guidance should remain in place, said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Scott and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, requested the GAO investigate school discipline.

"The Government Accountability Office has conducted first-of-its-kind analysis of national data which dispels claims that racially disproportionate rates of discipline are based solely on income. The analysis shows that students of color suffer harsher discipline for lesser offenses than their white peers and that racial bias is a driver of discipline disparities," Scott said in a statement.

"This report underscores the need to combat these gross disparities by strengthening, not rescinding, the 2014 Discipline Guidance Package, which recommends specific strategies to reduce the disparities without jeopardizing school safety."

The report analyzed six types of disciplinary actions: in-school and out-of-school suspensions, expulsion, corporal punishment, referral to law enforcement and school-related arrests. Black students, boys and students with disabilities were disproportionately affected by all of them.

Black students were also particularly overrepresented among students who received corporal punishment or had school-related arrests, according to the report.

Boys, meanwhile, accounted for just over half of all public school students, but made up at least two-thirds of students disciplined in every way. "Boys were particularly overrepresented among students who received corporal punishment, by about 27 percentage points," according to the report, which noted that the disparities occurred as early as preschool.

And students with disabilities represent just 12 percent of all public school students — but they accounted for at least a quarter of students referred to law enforcement, arrested for a school-related incident or suspended from school, the GAO said.