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School Discipline Problems and Racial Disparities Start Early

According to federal figures, nearly 5000 pre-school kids were suspended from school in the most recent year. A disproportionate number were minority children. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education.
According to federal figures, nearly 5000 pre-school kids were suspended from school in the most recent year. A disproportionate number were minority children. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education.
April 14, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Almost 5000 American children have been suspended from pre-school for behavior issues, acording to the latest federal figures, and a disproportionate number were minority kids.

According to Jerri Derlikowski, education policy director at Arkansas Advocates for Families and Children, it's not clear if any of those suspensions were in Arkansas. But she said their own research shows that black children in the state are five times as likely to be suspended, and that the problem is that kids who get suspended are much less likely to finish school.

"It gets them disengaged with their school community - probably a struggling student - it further interrupts their learning, makes it that much more likely they will not successfully complete high school," she said.

The U.S. Department of Education report containing the numbers did not explain how a three- or four-year-old child can behave badly enough to deserve out-of-school suspension. Derlikowski said however that one problem may be that the pre-schools are poorly funded.

"If you're tightly staffed already, spending time that a particular student needs, it's easier to just suspend and eventually push out students that are difficult," she said.

According to federal figures, Arkansas had the 15th-highest rate of suspensions, and was the 13th-worst for the racial disparity in discipline, but Derlikowski says about half the state's school districts had little or no such disparity. She said it may work for the problematic districts to see how the other half deals with the issue.

"The districts that have been successful at keeping that disparity low, look at some of their models and see what they're doing, and share that information with other school districts," she suggested.

Derlikowski said it's troubling to see the racial disparities start so early, because it may be setting a pattern for the child's later school progress. She said that if a pupil is suspended even one time in high school, that child is only half as likely to graduate as kids with no suspensions.

More information is at ocrdata.ed.gov.


Dan Heyman, Public News Service - AR