Suspensions in Preschool? Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights Finds Racial Disparities

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights recently released a study on school discipline that reported significant racial disparities in out-of-school suspensions starting as early as the preschool level.
This disparity brings about a myriad of concerns including an opportunity gap among students and the impact out-of-school suspension can have on the children’s future at such an early stage of life. Suspensions can lead to delays in academic advancement and increase the likelihood of students dropping out and entering the juvenile justice system.
While 94 percent of school districts do not use out-of-school suspension for preschoolers, there were concerning inequalities among those that did: African American children represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but 42 percent of students suspended once, and 48 percent of the students suspended more than once.
Conversely, white students represented 43 percent of enrollment but only 26 percent of students suspended more than once.
Attorney General Eric Holder says on the issue, "Every data point represents a life impacted and a future potentially diverted or derailed. This Administration is moving aggressively to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in order to ensure that all of our young people have equal educational opportunities."
President Obama has proposed a new initiative called Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity (RTT-Opportunity) to address the inequalities among students. This initiative would create incentives for states and school districts to drive change in how they identify and close opportunity and achievement gaps.

For more on racial disparity and discipline in schools, see our past reporting:
New Research Finds Excessive Discipline Harms Student Achievement
Racial Disparities and the School-to-Prison Pipeine [video]
Dismantling the Cradle to Prison Pipeline

Cecilia Bianco is the social and digital communications account coordinator for Prichard Communications. She contributes to the Reclaiming Futures blog regarding topics of juvenile justice reform and substance abuse prevention.

Updated: April 21 2014