“No other issue holds greater promise for equality than education.”
Those were the words of U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who, along with Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali, spoke during a special conference on civil rights and education this week in Washington, D.C. The conference was called to unveil the new Civil Rights Data Collection, and was attended by TASH and other groups working tirelessly to eliminate disparities facing minority students in U.S. schools.
The CRDC is billed as the most comprehensive dataset on U.S. school equity ever assembled, and a first-of-its-kind tool for analyzing equity and educational opportunities. It includes data from more than 72,000 schools representing approximately 85 percent of the nation’s students. With this wealth of information comes the hope that transparency will lead to transformation. As the Secretary noted, this information represents an unprecedented opportunity to discuss and address disparities in education.
“The power of the data is not only in the numbers themselves, but in the impact it can have when married with the courage and the will to change. The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise. It is our collective duty to change that,” said Secretary Duncan.
As TASH and other groups comb through the data, we’re mindful of the educational disparities students with disabilities face. We also know that, for children of diverse racial and cultural backgrounds who have disabilities, these disparities can be compounded. Although other revelations will likely come as we sort through the CRDC data, here are some significant highlights:
Students with disabilities are two times more likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspension, with 13 percent of IDEA students having been suspended compared to 6 percent of non-IDEA students.
Students with disabilities make up one out of every eight students (12 percent); however, students with disabilities comprise nearly 70 percent of students physically restrained by adults in their schools.
African American students comprise 21 percent of all students with disabilities, although they make up 44 percent of students with disabilities subjected to mechanical restraint.
Of the 21 percent of students with disabilities who are African American, the clear majority is male (86 percent). And though males represent roughly half of all students with disabilities, they comprise 70 percent of students subjected to restraint or seclusion.
TASH has issued a press release addressing this issue. You are encouraged to download it here, and send it to your local reporters, TV news stations and other media. The release of this data represents an opportunity to bring greater attention to abusive practices in schools.
“Our students need equitable access to education and protection for their personal safety under the law, and clearly that’s not happening for students with disabilities or those from diverse backgrounds,” said Barb Trader, TASH Executive Director. “It is a national tragedy that any child, especially the most vulnerable, is not safe in school.”
These findings should be alarming, and they should be a call to action. TASH members and others following our work understand that restraint and seclusion have been focal points of our efforts for years. Now armed with further documentation, it is time to put the pressure on Congress to provide federal protections against restraint and seclusion in schools.
The Department should be commended for holding this conference and for adding transparency on restraint and seclusion and other issues in our schools. However, TASH strongly urges the Department to not stop here. The Department is in a position to influence restraint and seclusion use in schools by setting clear and specific expectations for state and local education agencies regarding the prevention of such practices, tying expectations for prevention to federal funding programs, and investigating instances of alleged abuse. The Department ought to be a leader and advocate on ensuring a safe learning environment. And it should hold those entrusted with the care of students accountable for their actions.
The CRDC is a public resource available at http://ocrdata.ed.gov. Take a moment to explore the site and check school data in your area. And join TASH in the fight to end restraint and seclusion use in schools, and in eliminating disparities in education opportunities for all students.