Traverse City Record-Eagle

Body & Soul

March 22, 2014

Black preschoolers more likely to face suspension

WASHINGTON (AP) — Black students are more likely to be suspended from U.S. public schools — even as tiny preschoolers.

The racial disparities in American education, from access to high-level classes and experienced teachers to discipline, were highlighted in a report released Friday by the Education Department’s civil rights arm.

The suspensions — and disparities — begin at the earliest grades.

Black children represent about 18 percent of children in preschool programs in schools, but they make up almost half of the preschoolers suspended more than once, the report said. Six percent of the nation’s districts with preschools reported suspending at least one preschool child.

Advocates long have said get-tough suspension and arrest policies in schools have contributed to a “school-to-prison” pipeline that snags minority students, but much of the emphasis has been on middle school and high school policies. This was the first time the department reported data on preschool discipline.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration issued guidance encouraging schools to abandon what it described as overly zealous discipline policies that send students to court instead of the principal’s office. But even before the announcement, school districts have been adjusting policies that disproportionately affect minority students.

Overall, the data show that black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at a rate that’s three times higher than that of white children. Even as boys receive more than two-thirds of suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates than girls of any other race or most boys.

The data doesn’t explain why the disparities exist or why the students were suspended.

“It is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.

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