Report: Minority, disabled kids suffer more from school suspensions, expulsions

Students with disabilities and minority students are more likely than other pupils to face educationally disruptive, out-of-school suspensions, according to findings issued Monday by social service organizations and civil rights groups.

Across New Hampshire, minorities accounted for 23 percent of all out-of-school suspensions in the 2014-15 academic year, even though they comprised only 14 percent of the school population. Students with disabilities accounted for 38 percent of suspensions, even though they comprised 20 percent of the student population. Advocates said students who receive "exclusionary discipline" are more likely to fall behind academically, drop out of school and end up in prison.

In a joint news release, they faulted New Hampshire schools for invoking exclusionary discipline for minor, non-violent offenses.

"Exclusionary discipline is the first step in the school-to-prison pipeline, and too often it is students of color, students with disabilities, and low-income students who are subject to such exclusion," said Devon Chaffee, executive director of the the American Civil Liberties Union-New Hampshire.

The Juvenile Reform Project includes New Hampshire Legal Assistance, New Hampshire Children's Behavioral Health Collaborative, the Disability Rights Center-New Hampshire, Waypoint and the ACLU.

The report faults New Hampshire for a lack of standards and limitations on exclusionary discipline. And although the state has a recommended framework for a three-tiered discipline model, it provides no financial support.

The report recommends support for House Bill 677, which would provide $5 million to implement a prevention program and alternatives to suspensions.

The report, "Keeping Kids in School," comes as Manchester schools struggle with a rash of disciplinary problems. Two weeks ago, elementary school teachers at Wilson School told the school board they were getting hit, kicked and spit upon by students.

Earlier this month, police scrambled to Memorial High School after a wave of student-on-student violence. And former Webster School principal Sarah Lynch has claimed she was fired for complaining that self-contained classrooms for children with emotional behavior disorders were understaffed.

In a statement emailed to the New Hampshire Union Leader, outgoing school Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas wrote: "It is extremely important that the district continue to implement a strong system of support to address the social emotional issues many of our students are facing." He thanked the principals and staff who are monitoring and analyzing their student discipline data and trying to reduce the need for suspension.

The Juvenile Reform Project found similar disparities in the state's 10 largest urban areas in the 2014-15 school year. The project relies on data from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

Students of color comprise 25 percent of the population in city schools, but received 40 percent of out-of-school suspensions. Students with disabilities comprised 22 percent of city school students and accounted for 36 percent of suspensions.

"I don't think teachers go to school with the intent to discriminate," said Michelle Wangerin, Youth Law Project Director at New Hampshire Legal Assistance. "Without tools in the toolbox, exclusionary discipline can be the easy way."

She said school fights have gone on for ages, and not all represent a threat to school safety. And while suspensions are necessary when threats such as weapons and serious violence occur, school officials need a plan in place for students when they return to school.

Click here to read the full article in The Union Leader.