On April 23, 2019, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a report entitled Beyond Suspensions: Examining School Discipline Policies and Connection to School to Prison Pipeline for Students of Color with Disabilities. This Statement is part of that report.
In the report, the Commission finds “Students of color as a whole, as well as by individual racial group, do not commit more disciplinable offenses than their white peers ….” That would be a good thing if it were true, but there is no evidence to support it and abundant evidence to the contrary. “This Statement discusses that evidence. Denying facts is not helpful to students, no matter what their race or ethnicity.”
The report also asserts that students with disabilities are disciplined more often than students without disabilities. But it leaves the impression that this means students with physical disabilities are being disproportionately disciplined. That isn’t true. It is students with behavioral disorder who misbehave more often (and hence are disciplined more often). But behavioral disorders are defined by a pattern of misbehavior. All the Commission has found is that student who misbehave a lot get disciplined more often than students who don’t. No surprise there.
Experts say it is unclear whether or why students of color may be more likely to display behavior problems. Possible explanations include the impact of poverty, family structure and systemic bias faced throughout life.
One of the commissioners who voted against adoption of the report, Gail Heriot, said she was disturbed by the finding that students of color do not commit more offenses warranting discipline than their white peers.
“The report provides no evidence to support this sweeping assertion and there is abundant evidence to the contrary,” Heriot, a law professor at the University of San Diego, wrote in her dissent. She said that denying that black and Hispanic students misbehave more often is a “slap in the face to teachers” because it suggests they are singling out students of color for punishment much more often without evidence.