Students all over Arizona are suspended for not showing up to class, whether it’s because they arrive late, leave campus midday or fail to make it at all, an investigation by The Hechinger Report and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting has found. And, the data shows, Black, Latino and Native American students are frequently overrepresented among those blocked from class for missing class — what some argue is evidence of a potential civil rights violation.

Nationally, researchers have tied similar discipline disparities to school attendance policies and the unequal application of punishment. The policies tend to be more accepting of reasons that white students are most likely to miss class, and educators unevenly assign discipline of all kinds, allowing bias to creep in. The consequences can be steep: These inequities in school discipline — what some researchers have dubbed the “punishment gap” — contribute directly to racial differences in academic performance.

“Students have a right to be treated in equity with their peers, and when there’s unexplained disproportionality, it’s really incumbent on schools to understand why that disproportionality exists and to work to rectify it,” said Darrell Hill, attorney and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

Students from historically marginalized groups who receive excessive suspensions in response to tardies or unexcused absences could “certainly” have grounds for a civil rights claim, Hill said.

The Hechinger/AZCIR investigation offers one of the most in-depth analyses ever conducted of suspensions for attendance violations. Because most states and the federal government don’t collect detailed data on the reasons behind suspensions, the extent of this controversial practice has long remained hidden.

The analysis revealed nearly 47,000 suspensions for attendance violations over the past five school years, across more than 80 districts that suspended students for missing class. The true scale of the problem is likely much larger, as almost 250 districts failed to provide comprehensive data in response to public records requests.

Read the full article about students punished for missing class by Tara García Mathewson, Maria Polletta, and Fazil Khan at The Hechinger Report.