Giving Compass' Take:

• Jill Barshay explains that, contrary to previous research, new research suggests that race and learning disabilities are not compounding factors in suspensions. 

• How can funders help to improve understanding of suspensions and effective solutions for reducing suspensions? 

• Find out how much suspensions hurt students.  

A look at raw numbers of who is most likely to be suspended from school indicates that black students and students with disabilities* are at the top of the list. For example, 23 percent of black students and 18 percent of students with disabilities were suspended from high school during 2011-12 school year, compared with fewer than 7 percent of white students overall.

Combine the categories of black and disability with gender and the statistics are even more troubling. Almost 34 percent, or more than a third of black boys with a disability were suspended in high school, double the rate of white boys with a disability. On the face of it, black students with disabilities are the most targeted group for suspensions and account for a big chunk of the school-to-prison pipeline.

Indeed, the Obama administration was so worried that black kids with learning disabilities were getting suspended from school too often that it used the nation’s laws that govern educating students with disabilities to create a new rule for how states should monitor discipline rates among racial and ethnic groups. The new rule also called for a reallocation of funds in school districts that were found to have disproportionately suspended black students to force the districts to invest in more support services.  But just before the rule was supposed to go into effect in 2018, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos put it on hold.

Now a new study could be used as evidence that DeVos was right to stall and continue to study the issue. A team of researchers from Pennsylvania State University and the University of California, Irvine, has found that students with disabilities aren’t being suspended from school more frequently than their peers without disabilities once you factor in other explanations, such as race, a student’s socioeconomic status, student behavior and the poverty rate at the student’s school. While the researchers do find that black children are being suspended at twice the rate of white students, they don’t find any evidence that schools are more prone to suspend black students who have a disability. I would sum it up like this: racism exists but disabilities aren’t compounding the problem or increasing a black boy’s likelihood of getting suspended.

Read the full article about the relationship between learning disabilities, suspensions, and race by Jill Barshay at The Hechinger Report.