Racial disparities in suspensions at Rhode Island’s schools reached their highest rates in a decade last year, according to a new report issued today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island. The report, “Blacklisted: 2013-2014,” found that while white students experienced a ten-year low in suspensions during the 2013-2014 school year, the combined suspension rate for Hispanic, black and Native American students was at its highest level.
According to the report, significant racial disparities were found in school districts across the state, began as early as elementary school, and affected black girls as well as boys. These findings come just one year after the federal government issued guidance to school districts that suspension use should be minimized, and as the Rhode Island General Assembly considers legislation to prohibit suspensions for low-risk behavioral offenses.
Among the report’s findings:
The ACLU was joined by representatives from the NAACP Providence Branch, Rhode Island Kids Count, the Univocal Legislative Minority Advisory Commission, Youth in Action, the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, and other community groups and advocates to announce the report’s findings. The groups called on legislators and school officials to address racial bias in school discipline, noting that cities and towns such as Baltimore, Maryland and Ferguson, Missouri are grappling now with the long-term consequences of an unchecked “school to prison pipeline.” The groups specifically recommended that steps, including passage of legislation, be taken to limit out-of-school suspensions to serious offenses, and that school districts work with the community to investigate new disciplinary methods, such as restorative justice and peer counseling.
The report concluded:
“Today’s youth become tomorrow’s adults, and minimizing the use of suspensions now ensures that these youth enter adulthood with an education to build upon, not a past to overcome.”
Hillary Davis, the ACLU of RI’s policy associate and author of the report, said: “Rhode Island’s schools have for too long relied on suspensions to address minor behavioral issues, disproportionately pushing black and Hispanic students out of the classroom instead of keeping our children in school where they belong. The long-term effects of suspensions are serious and well-documented, and Rhode Island cannot afford to wait for those effects to boil over before we address this long-simmering, rectifiable issue.”