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States' Suspension Rates Vary Widely for Students With Disabilities, Group Says


Eighteen percent of secondary students with a disability served an out-of-school suspension in 2011-12,  according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, but behind that number are enormous variations in suspension rates at the district and state level.

A civil rights advocacy group's analysis of the data released Monday shows that Florida, at 37 percent, leads all other states in suspending students with disabilities at the secondary level. Florida also led the nation that year in suspensions overall, both at the elementary and secondary level, at 5 percent and 19 percent, respectively, said the Center for Civil Rights Remedies.

The state with the lowest suspension rate for secondary students with disabilities was North Dakota, at 5 percent, said the group, a part of the Civil Rights Project of the University of California, Los Angeles. (We've requested comment from Florida and will add it when we get it.) [UPDATE (4:40 p.m.): Cheryl Etters, the spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, said in an email that "decisions regarding discipline policies as well as student suspensions are made at the district level." She deferred to individual districts for any information on their suspension policies.]

Though the Education Department collects the data from each school, district and state, it does not release rankings among states and districts. The center's analysis does so, breaking out the numbers by race and ethnicity, gender, and disability status. It also includes web tools to allow visitors to make their own comparisons.  

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act offers some protection to students with disabilities regarding suspension. Specifically, a suspension for more than 10 days triggers a "manifestation determination," where a team decides if the offending behavior is related to the student's disability. But for suspensions of less than 10 days, no such determination is required. And, school personnel are allowed to bypass the manifestation determination for certain serious offenses, such as using or selling drugs on school property, bringing a weapon to school, or inflicting "serious bodily injury" on another.
Digging deeper into the numbers: among secondary school students with disabilities, black males were suspended at the highest rate, at 34 percent. Black female students were also suspended at a high rate, 22.5 percent.The chart below offers more detail: 

Students with disabilities suspension rate.jpg

Many districts are making strides in decreasing out-of-school suspensions and lessening the suspension "gap" among students based on race and disability status, said Daniel J. Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies. "A lot of school districts are closing the gap in a profound way, but not enough to swing the national numbers," he said in a statement accompanying the report's release. 

My colleague Evie Blad, who covers school climate, has also written a blog post on the report, examining its findings for students based on gender, race and ethnicity. 

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