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Report: Native Students Suspended, Arrested 6 Times More Often

Public schools on Montana reservations are more likely to have law enforcement on campus, according to a new report. (bartsadowski/Adobe Stock)
Public schools on Montana reservations are more likely to have law enforcement on campus, according to a new report. (bartsadowski/Adobe Stock)
December 17, 2019

HELENA, Mont. - Indigenous students are disciplined more often and more severely than their white peers in Montana public schools, according to a new report. The American Civil Liberties Union analysis found Native American students in K-12 schools were arrested six times more often and received out-of-class suspensions nearly six times more often than white students in the 2015-2016 school year.

Laurie Walker is an associate professor of social work at the University of Montana and co-wrote the report. She said lower graduation rates among Native students are related to this pattern of harsh discipline. And those patterns are also concentrated near reservations.

"The 10 schools with the highest rate of out-of-school suspensions were located either in a reservation community or in a town bordering reservation communities," Walker said. "And public schools on reservations were more likely to have law enforcement officers in their schools."

The report said Montana is failing to meet its legal obligation to provide equitable education to every student. The Montana Office of Public Instruction said it's working to close the achievement gap for students of color.

Walker said schools need more support staff to address the issue.

"Schools with social workers have better graduation rates and lower exclusionary discipline outcomes," she said. "Schools that meet the recommended ratio of one social worker per 250 students have seven times less suspensions and half as many arrests as schools that do not meet the recommended ratio for social workers."

The report also offered other recommendations. It said schools should ban disciplinary measures that remove students from the classroom in grades 6 and under, limit law enforcement in schools to serious criminal matters only, and increase culturally relevant programming to better connect Native American families, teachers and administrators.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT