Ed Department Finds Students With Disabilities Disproportionately Disciplined

Michelle Diament | November 16, 2023

Front entrance of the US Department of Education building

For the first time in years, federal education officials are releasing data showing how the experiences of students with disabilities in the nation’s schools vary from others and the picture is stark.

Students with disabilities account for a larger percentage of those attending public schools than just a few years ago, according to findings from the U.S. Department of Education’s latest civil rights data collection. At the same time, these children are far more likely than others to be subject to restraint and seclusion, be suspended or expelled or referred to law enforcement.

The information offers a look at the situation across more than 17,000 school districts and over 97,000 public schools during the 2020–2021 school year.

The current findings include insights on enrollment as well as student access to courses, teachers and other school staff, the internet and devices. In addition, the data addresses discipline, bullying and other factors related to school climate.

“We cannot be complacent when the data repeatedly tells us that the race, sex or disability of students continue to dramatically impact everything from access to advanced placement courses to the availability of school counselors to the use of exclusionary and traumatic disciplinary practices,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

The Education Department typically collects civil rights data every other year. But, such activities were paused during the COVID-19 pandemic and the current release is the first since 2020 when officials put out data collected about the 2017-2018 school year.

Across the country, 17% of public school students have disabilities, with 14% served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and 3% covered only by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the report shows. By comparison, students with disabilities accounted for 15.9% of enrollment in 2017-2018.

The latest findings indicate that those with disabilities continue to be disciplined at disproportionate rates, representing 29% of K-12 students who received out-of-school suspensions and 21% of expulsions. They were also more likely to experience school-related arrests or be referred to law enforcement.

Of the 42,500 allegations of harassment or bullying reported by public school students during the 2020-2021 school year, 9% were on the basis of disability.

Children served under IDEA were far more likely than others to experience restraint and seclusion, accounting for 32% of those mechanically restrained, 81% of students who were physically restrained, and 75% of kids who were secluded. They also were less frequently enrolled in mathematics and science courses.

“These new CRDC data reflect troubling differences in students’ experiences in our nation’s schools,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department. “We remain committed to working with school communities to ensure the full civil rights protections that federal law demands.”

Originally published on disabilityscoop.com.