Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Special ed, black students face more suspensions than others in NY schools

From the NY Daily News:

As suspensions served by city students have soared in the past decade, black and special education students were more likely to be kicked out of class, a new report says.

Black students served more than half of the suspensions but account for just a third of city students, a new study by the New York Civil Liberties Union found. And students with disabilities were four times more likely to be suspended.

The total number of suspension served in 2008-09 was up to nearly 74,000, from roughly 44,000 in 1999-2000, the report shows.

Black students were given a particularly high proportion of suspensions for "subjective" offenses - like disruptive and disrespectful behavior - accounting for 55% of suspensions, the report says.

"That reflects a predilection to target . . . black students with the harshest disciplinary punishments, and black students with disabilities are the most at risk sector of the student population," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman.

Two weeks after his son started eighth grade at Junior High School 190 in Queens last year, Myles Ephraim of Forest Hills got a call that his then-13-year-old was busted for playing with a souvenir baseball bat.

Five kids played with the bat, but Ephraim's son - the lone black child of the five - was the only one to face discipline, they said.

"It was almost like it was written for television," Ephraim said of what he saw as overt racism.

"Aside from anger, there was a sadness. It was a sign of what our son would have deal with for a long time - forever."

Studies have shown that students serving multiple suspensions are more likely to drop out, and a higher number of suspensions can mean lower tests scores.

City Education Department spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz noted that crime in school has gone down "year after year."

"We have a discipline code that we follow with regard to student infractions, coupled with student support services. Race is not a factor in suspension decisions," she said, also pointing out that the agency is looking "to address behavioral issues among special education students" through mediation instead of suspension.

As an eighth-grade special education student at Public School 29 of the Bronx, Jonathan Lopez was honored by his math teacher, who hung up a photo of him for doing a good job.

After Jonathan failed an exam, he ripped down his picture - and with it the whole bulletin board by accident. For that he spent five days suspended from school, according to Jonathan and his mother, Norma.

"I felt angry - why did I get suspended?" said Jonathan, 16, now a junior.