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ACLU of Missouri report highlights racial disparities in school discipline

Drawing of child and scales of justice
Susannah Lohr | St. Louis Public Radio
Advocates say children who experience high levels of discipline in school are more likely to end up in prison.

Black students in Missouri are four and a half times more likely to be suspended than white students, according to a report released Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.

The ACLU also found that black students with disabilities are more than three times as likely to be suspended as white students with disabilities.

The report compares school discipline rates in the state by race, gender and disability using data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Racial disparity in school discipline has been a focus of several community organizations in St. Louis, including Metropolitan Congregations United, for several years.

Rev. Dietra Wise Baker of MCU said the disproportionate number of suspensions and other forms of discipline influence the way black students see themselves.

“They really do believe they are disposable and unimportant,” Wise Baker said. “Our region cannot continue to hinder black youth.”

Jeffrey Mittman, the executive director of ACLU of Missouri, said his organization’s report builds on the existing work of MCU and other organizations and schools working to reduce school suspensions by giving them more data.

“There is a desire in the community to fix this problem. The best solution is when school boards, school superintendents, teachers, principals, students, families, advocacy organizations and experts come together and speak. We’re optimistic that that will be the best way forward,” Mittman said, adding that lawsuits will be a last resort.

University City Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley said one statistic in particular stood out to her from the report: Missouri suspends black elementary students at a higher rate compared to white students than the rest of the country.

“That’s a hard data point to swallow, that we are No. 1 in that regard, and we should not be,” Hardin-Bartley said. “We are better than that as a region, we are better than that as educators, and I personally believe specifically in University City our community is so much better than that.”

University City is one of more than 20 St. Louis area school districts that have pledged to reduce suspensions in their early grades.

Follow Camille on Twitter:@cmpcamille

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