Sunday, February 22, 2015

Connecticut: Racial and Income Disparities in School Discipline Remain: Reducing Penalties May Increase Disparities

Fewer students are being excluded from the classroom through suspensions, expulsions, and arrests in recent years, according to a new report by Connecticut Voices for Children. However, many of these discipline measures were used for behaviors that were probably not criminal and could likely have been handled within the school. In addition, racial and ethnic disparities in school discipline rates suggest a need for more uniform criteria in decisions about suspensions, arrests, and expulsions of students.

Among the findings of the report, which examined school records for the 2012-13 school year:

· The number of students arrested, expelled, and suspended in Connecticut has decreased significantly in recent years. In the 2013 school year, Connecticut schools arrested 35% fewer students, expelled 31% fewer students, and gave out of school suspensions to 47% fewer students than in 2008.
· Despite the overall reduction in these “exclusionary” school discipline practices, many students are still removed from the classroom for non-criminal behaviors that could be managed in the classroom.

- “School policy violations” – such as skipping class, insubordination, or using profanity – were involved in 9% of student arrests, 6% of expulsions, 50% of out-of-school suspensions, and 79% of in-school suspensions in 2013.

· Suspension, expulsion and arrest rates were much higher for minority students, special education students, and students from poorer districts. In 2013, black students were 4.7 times more likely to be arrested, 4.9 times more likely to be expelled, and 6.5 times more likely to be suspended out-of-school than white students. Similarly, Hispanic students were 3.1 times more likely to be arrested, 2.6 times more likely to be expelled, and 4.4 times more likely to be suspended out-of-school than white students. Special education students were arrested at 3 times the rate of general education students, and they were 1.8 times more likely to be expelled, and 2.6 times more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions. Students in the poorest urban areas (District Reference Group, or DRG I) were arrested nearly 23 times more often, expelled over 17 times more often, and suspended out-of-school 24 times more often than students in the wealthiest suburban areas (DRG A).

To reduce unnecessary exclusion of students from the classroom, Connecticut Voices’ report made several recommendations, including proposals that state policymakers and the State Department of Education should:
· Improve data collection by clearly defining “student arrests” (not currently defined by the state) and collecting and publishing data on all student arrests (currently not required for all incidents resulting in arrests).
· Require districts with police stationed in schools to create a memorandum of agreement between the schools and police that sets ground rules concerning arrests.
· Implement preventive strategies and alternative discipline measures to reduce racial and other disparities and ensure those excluded from school are provided equal opportunities.

“Children need a respectful learning environment, but excluding children from school for disciplinary reasons is not effective and may widen our educational achievement gaps,” said Sarah Iverson, Policy Fellow at Connecticut Voices and co-author of the report. “Many schools are effective at managing problem student behaviors while keeping children in the classroom, and we should share lessons about what works.”

Commentary by

James P. Scanlan
Attorney at Law 1529 Wisconsin Avenue, NW Suite 300 Washington, DC 20007 Office phone: 202-338-9224

The move to reduce student arrests, suspensions, and expulsions is substantially prompted by the belief, promoted by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, that doing so will tend to reduce relative differences rates between rates at which whites and minorities experience those outcomes.  Exactly the opposite is the case.  Reducing the frequency of these outcomes (or any outcomes) tends to increase relative differences between rates of experiencing the outcomes, while reducing relative differences between rates of avoiding the outcomes.  I explain this fairly succinctly in reference 1 and 2 and somewhat more elaborately in reference 3.  As explained in reference 4, the general reductions in discipline rates in Connecticut were usually accompanied by increased relative differences in discipline rates, a pattern found in many jurisdictions across the country that have recently relaxed discipline standards while mistakenly believing that doing so would reduce relative differences in discipline rates.  See links collected in reference 5 

The additional reductions contemplated by administrators will tend to further increase these differences. 

1. “Things government doesn’t know about racial disparities,” The Hill (Jan. 28, 2014).

2. The Paradox of Lowering Standards, Baltimore Sun (Aug. 5, 2013)

3.  “Race and Mortality Revisited,” Society (July/Aug. 2014)

4.  Connecticut Disparities subpage of the Discipline Disparities page of

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