Minority and special-needs students are more likely to be disciplined by being suspended or expelled from schools. That’s according to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania: Beyond Zero Tolerance: Discipline and Policing in Pennsylvania Public Schools.
The study’s author, ACLU’s Harold Jordan, aggregated data from the commonwealth’s 500 public school districts on out-of-school suspensions, expulsions and removal by police.
Four of the school districts with the highest OSS rate are in Allegheny County: Sto-Rox, Woodland Hills, Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh.
Jordan said the overuse of OSSs does not lead to a good result for the kids or their communities.
“A: you want peaceful schools, and it’s clear that suspending a whole bunch of students has not necessarily made schools more peaceful,” Jordan said. “And B: you don’t want a situation where kids become disengaged from schools — out on the streets — that tends to happen when students are suspended, especially when students are suspended repeatedly.”
The data showed that black students are almost five times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students. Latino students are three times more likely.
York City School District issued the most suspensions during the 2011-12 school year with 91 suspensions for every 100 students — some have multiple suspensions.
Jordan said he wouldn’t want to comment on how districts are handling this across the board, but he urged them to look into it.
“I think the specific reasons once again may vary from place to place, but maybe sometimes the stereotyping of kids, sometimes we’ve seen situations in Philadelphia schools where two kids can exhibit the same behavior, but it’s seen as criminal or pre-criminal behavior when it’s some students and not others.”
The report also examined students with disabilities, who are almost twice as likely to receive OSSs.
Jordan said he thinks school districts need to look more carefully at what happens with students with disabilities.
“We need to make sure that schools are operating in compliance with the law on this, which requires that schools to do an assessment of whether a particular behavior is a reflection of or something that grows out of the disability or whether it’s something else,” Jordan said.
According to the report, 22 percent of black students with disabilities have been suspended at least once, making them the highest rated group.
Jordan’s report claims that educators are not doing a good job of monitoring and measuring the performance of school-based police programs.
Brownsville Area School District topped the list of students removed by police with 6.84 arrests per 100 students.
According to Jordan, only a few Pennsylvania school districts keep records on how many students are convicted of summary offenses in adult courts.
He noted that school resource officers do not work under a statewide standard set of guidelines regarding their role in schools and contact with students and there is little evidence that full-time police increase the safety in schools.