Educators from across the nation gathered at the White House on July 22 to discuss school discipline and expand the conversation about replacing suspensions and expulsions with positive alternatives that keep students in school and learning. The number of children suspended from schools is staggering – over 3 million each year – and research demonstrates that school suspension marks the start of the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” that leads many youth into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
Zero-tolerance discipline policies in schools across the country play a major role, resulting in out-of-school suspension, expulsion, or even arrest for minor offenses. In some states, police officers are widely stationed in schools, and routinely arrest and transport youth to juvenile detention centers. Data from our incarcerated population demonstrate the outcome of these lost opportunities for learning and removal from the classroom: over two thirds of males in the federal prison system do not have a high school diploma.
The School-to-Prison Pipeline disproportionately affects the most at-risk youth, particularly students of color and students with disabilities. Data from the Department of Education reveals that African-American students are 3.5 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students. While constituting only 18 percent of students, black children account for over 45 percent of those suspended more than once.
As part of the summit, the Department of Education released two maps to demonstrate the scale of the problem, included below. Especially striking is the second map, revealing that across the country high proportions – often over 20 percent – of students with disabilities have been suspended at least once.
Educators and policy-makers also reported districts that are making positive changes to disrupt the School-to-Prison Pipeline. For example, LA Unified was the first district in the country to ban suspensions for “willful defiance” – activities including refusing to turn off a cellphone or failing to follow school dress code – in favor of alternative approaches to discipline that result in fewer lost classroom hours. Discussion made clear teachers’ need for increased resources, training, and flexibility in the classroom, both to choose appropriate disciplinary measures, and to avoid escalating situations that lead to suspension or arrest.
Explore Suspension Rates by Race
The map below uses data provided by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies to display suspension rates by state in 2011-12. Click each state to view a breakdown of suspension rates by students’ race.