LGBT students, students of color, and youth with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by disciplinary action in schools, and – as a result- are more likely to be pushed into the juvenile justice system.
According to a 2014 report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, LGBT students are subject to “harsh disciplinary treatment” at three times the rate of their non-LGBT peers. In secondary schools nationwide, less than 10 percent of students without disabilities were suspended, while 20 percent of students with disabilities were suspended. And students of color, including African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians, have “significantly higher rates” of suspension than their white counterparts.
There are a number of negative consequences of drastic disciplinary action like suspension. Less time in class affects academic performance, as students miss instruction and trail behind in their coursework. They are also more inclined to drop out of school altogether; one suspension raises the risk of dropping out of school from 16 percent to 32 percent. Students removed from class also have less time to “[interact] appropriately with peers, [develop] healthy relationships, and [learn] how to regulate their emotions and exercise self-control,” and have a greater chance of interacting with youth involved in criminal activities. Research from the ACLU shows that suspensions increase the likelihood of entering the juvenile justice system, particularly for minority youth.
In addition to suspensions, schools are increasingly reliant on the criminal justice system to enforce disciplinary action, in what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Rather than dealing with school violations, including minor infractions like wearing the wrong color socks, in-house, officials defer to police who arrested and charge students.
Disproportionately subjected to disciplinary action, LBGT youth, disabled students, and students of color are, therefore, more likely to enter the juvenile justice system. For instance, 3 in 4 students arrested in Chicago’s public schools last year were black. Even as early as preschool, black children are already subject to harsher disciplinary practices than their white peers. The evidence is similar for students with disabilities: A Texas report concluded that 75 percent of disabled students in the state were suspended; only 55 percent of students without disabilities received the same punishment.
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