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Report: A black male disabled student is most likely to be suspended

A student on his way to school walks past a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school, in Los Angeles, California on February 13, 2009.
A student on his way to school walks past a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school, in Los Angeles, California on February 13, 2009.
Robyn Beck/Getty Images

If you're a black male student who is disabled, you are more likely to be suspended from the classroom in California's largest districts than any other student, according to a report released today by UCLA's The Civil Rights Project.

The report, and its spreadsheet, covers 500 districts statewide and are based on 2009-10 data from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. It shows significant disparities in suspension rates based on gender and race as well as disability status in statewide and district specific data.

"In too many districts we're no longer saving out-of-school suspension for to be a measure of last resort," said Daniel Losen, co-author of the report and director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA's Civil Rights Project.

In 2009-10 more than 400,000 students were suspended and sent out of the classroom at least once, according to the data. The California Department of Education has reported more than 750,000 total suspensions in 2009-10, which means some of the 400,000 students were suspended multiple times that year.

According to the report, statewide African American students had an 18 percent risk of being suspended at least once, followed by Native American (11 percent), Hispanic (7 percent), White (6 percent), and Asian Pacific Islander (3 percent).

The data was also broken down by districts.

At L.A. Unified, African American male students had the highest risk of suspension at 23 percent versus an 11 percent risk for females. That pattern proved true across races and gender. More males are suspended at a consistently higher rate than females of the same race or ethnicity, according to the report.

When disability was brought into the picture, risk of suspension grew higher. Statewide African Americans with a disability had a 28 percent risk of suspension. At L.A. Unified, African Americans males with a disability have a 36 percent risk of suspension versus a 20 percent risk for those without. Here too the numbers were higher across the board for students with disabilities. (See Table 3 within the report.)

In general, students with disabilities are twice more likely to be suspended statewide than other students without a disability. About 1 in 7 students with disabilities received a suspension statewide compared with about 1 in 16 students without disabilities, the report states.

Losen said the data suggests that some schools and districts have used zero-tolerance measures or overly harsh punishment instead of alternatives that greatly reduces the likelihood the student will ultimately drop out or become introduced to the juvenile justice system.

"There's no doubt that schools have to be able to maintain safety and protect the integrity of the learning environment, but really, what are the effective approaches for doing that?" said Russ Skiba, a professor and director of the Equity Project at Indiana University.

Skiba said higher rate of suspension and expulsion correlate with lower academic achievement, higher risk of student dropout, failure to graduate on time and less engagement in school.

"It becomes very difficult to argue that suspension and expulsion...improve the school climate when schools that use it more have more negative outcomes," Skiba said. "...As we suspend students more, we are putting them at greater risk for contact with the juvenile justice system."

Skiba also dismissed the notion that students of color are from more poor background and more likely to be suspended. In studies that control for poverty, at poor urban or rich suburban schools, the disparity remained, Skiba said. "It's pretty clear that results are not simply due to poor kids behaving badly," he said.

Clarification: An earlier version of the story said a black male student who is disabled is more likely to be suspended from the classroom statewide; however, co-author Daniel Losen said there was an error in the report and that they only analyzed data broken down by gender, race and disability status as related to the five largest districts in the state. He said extrapolating from the data it is likely true, but he cannot say for sure.

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).