Report finds wide disparities in punishment of students with disabilities by race

A new report providing the first state-by-state estimate of lost instruction due to discipline for black and white students with disabilities finds dramatic disparities in suspensions by race. The study, called “Disabling Punishment: The Need for Remedies to the Disparate Loss of Instruction Experience by Black Students with Disabilities,” was conducted by the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School(CHHI) and UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies at The Civil Rights Project.

While research has documented the impact of exclusionary school discipline practices on other student groups, the educational experience of black students is unique. This report, “Disabling Punishment,” documents disparities faced by a particularly vulnerable group of black students–children with disabilities.

Among students with disabilities, black students tend to be suspended many times more often than their white peers. Nationally, these disparate rates translate into approximately 77 more days of lost instruction for black students with disabilities than their white counterparts. The difference in days of lost instruction means there are huge inequities in the opportunity to learn, according to the report.

“Federal law mandates that all children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate education. This study shows that, contrary to settled law, far too many school districts are punishing and pushing out black students with disabilities,” said Tomiko Brown-Nagin, faculty director of CHHI and the Daniel Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at HLS. “These districts should be held accountable for their failures to help these students learn and thrive.”

Catherine James