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Native American Students More Likely to Face Discipline in Washington State

Native American students in nine Washington state school districts were expelled or suspended at rates higher than their white and Hispanic peers during the 2012-13 school year, according to a new report.

The nonprofit Washington Appleseed, which lobbies for school discipline reform in Washington state, analyzed data from nine school districts to determine how many students were suspended or expelled, according to a recent article by The Seattle Times. The preliminary data show that certain student groups, including Native American and black students, are disciplined at disproportionately high rates.

In all nine districts, Native American students, who made up 1.6 percent of the student population in Washington in 2012, were more likely to face discipline than their white or Hispanic peers. In the Yakima school district in southern Washington, for example, more than 17 percent of Native American students were suspended or expelled during the 2012-13 school year, compared to about 12.5 percent of white students and Hispanic students. In the Spokane school district in eastern Washington, more than 18 percent of Native American students were suspended or expelled, compared to about 9 percent of white students, and 13 percent of Hispanic students. 

In 2012, white students made up nearly 60 percent of the state's student population, while Hispanic students accounted for more than 20 percent.

The data mirror a national trend recently highlighted by the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights. That report found that although American Indian and Native Alaskan students represent less than 1 percent of the country's student population, they account for 2 percent of out-of-school suspensions, and 3 percent of expulsions.

Although Washington Appleseed cautioned that the preliminary data could contain some errors, The Seattle Times reported that some of the districts examined, like Seattle and Federal Way, have already acknowledged or have been identified as having disproportionate discipline rates. The deputy superintendent of the Federal Way school district, Mark Davidson, told The Seattle Times that the district has "known for years we have a problem." To cut down on suspensions, the district has encouraged schools to adopt a discipline program called Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS), which emphasizes acknowledging positive behavior to discourage problem behavior before it begins. 

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