Illinois, Chicago Schools Top U.S. List for Suspension Disparity

One of every 4 African-American public school students in Illinois was suspended for disciplinary reasons during the 2009-10 school year, the highest rate among 47 states examined in a national study.
by | August 8, 2012

One of every 4 African-American public school students in Illinois was suspended at least once for disciplinary reasons during the 2009-10 school year, the highest rate among 47 states examined in a national study released Tuesday.

Illinois schools, in particular Chicago Public Schools, also had the widest gap in suspension rates between black and white students, according to the report, underscoring concerns by many educators that African-Americans face harsher discipline than their classmates.

The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA analyzed a year's worth of student suspension data from K-12 schools in hundreds of districts across the country. Expanding on research released by theU.S. Department of Education in March, the report ranked city and suburban districts by the percentages of minority students who received out-of-school suspensions in 2009-10.

The report did not include New York, Florida and Hawaii, citing flawed data.

In addition to CPS, two suburban Chicago districts stood out for high suspension rates for blacks and Latinos. More than 41 percent of Latino students in Thornton Township High School District 205 in Harvey were suspended in 2009-10, the second-highest rate nationally. Nearly 62 percent of African-American students in the same district were suspended, third in the U.S.

In Chicago Heights' Bloom Township High School District 206, 32.9 percent of Latinos and 59.6 percent of blacks were suspended in 2009-10. Both figures rank in the top five among districts in the report.

Nationally, the report found 1 of every 6 black students were suspended at least once in 2009-10, compared with 1 in 14 Latinos and 1 in 20 whites.

The report's researchers called on districts to implement more equitable discipline policies and to reduce the number of out-of-school suspensions that so often leave troubled students even further behind their peers.

"Suspending a student out-of-school is one of the leading indicators of whether a student will drop out and wind up incarcerated," said Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies. "By some estimates, (suspensions) increase the risks of dropping out by threefold."

The Southern Poverty Law Center said Tuesday it filed a series of civil rights complaints against school districts in Florida that disproportionately punish African-American students. The complaints, filed with the U.S. Department of Education, say black students are suspended, expelled and sometimes arrested for relatively minor and nonviolent conduct.

In CPS, where social justice advocates have long fought to ease harsh discipline of minority students, the suspension rate for African-Americans was more than 30 percent in 2009-10. That was 24 percentage points higher than the rate for white students, the widest gap between black and white students of any large urban district in the report, including those in Houston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

The suspension disparities between white and black students in Illinois was 21.3 percent, also tops among states surveyed. Charles Bergman of the Community Organizing & Family Issues advocacy group called the disparities highlighted in the UCLA report "shocking" but not surprising for organizations that have fought to curb suspensions.

CPS is working to seek alternatives to suspensions to reduce the time students spend out of class, said district spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler. The district recently eliminated mandatory 10-day out-of-school suspensions for even the most serious cases, and in June the school board approved giving principals the option to assign in-school suspension to students whose behavior previously would have merited suspension outside of school.

©2012 the Chicago Tribune

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