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ACLU: Missouri Schools Still Punishing Black Students More Severely Than White Students

J.G. Park
Flickr--Creative Commons
Students who receive long suspensions are less likely to graduate from high school.

Black students in Missouri continue to be suspended at a disproportionate rate compared to their white peers, according to an analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU updated a report it published last fall that found black children with disabilities received more than 40 percent of out-of-school suspensions despite making up only 16 percent of the student population receiving special education services.

“It’s getting worse, particularly for students of color,” says Sara Baker, legislative and policy director for the ACLU of Missouri. “We’re not headed in the right direction, and some sort of major shift needs to happen here in Missouri to make sure we’re not directing our kids directly into the school-to-prison pipeline.”

The data from the Office of Civil Rights, while the latest available, is from the 2015-16 school year. And Baker says there are Missouri school districts headed in the right direction. Some are even working with the ACLU to improve their policies so black students won’t be treated so harshly.

“We want to be seen by school districts as more of a partner and not someone who’s just constantly on the attack,” Baker says. “We think we have some resources we can offer to help ameliorate these issues.”

Baker says University City near St. Louis is one of the districts trying to reverse discipline disparities. Locally, KCUR reported last spring that Kansas City Public Schools had drastically decreased the number of out-of-school suspensions in 2016-17.

The new ACLU analysis doesn’t take into account these more recent improvements.

Baker says the ACLU specifically looked at two metro Kansas City districts, Raytown and Hickman Mills. In Raytown, although suspensions went down between 2013-14 and 2015-16, discipline disparities got worse and black students were three times as likely to be suspended as their white peers. In Hickman Mills, their risk was two times that of white students.

Both Raytown and Hickman Mills reduced the out-of-school suspension rate of black students receiving special education services. The original ACLU analysis criticized schools for frequent suspensions of special needs children, particularly students of color.

Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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