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June 24, 2016 Practice Points

U.S. DOE Office of Civil Rights Unveils Data for 2013–2014 School Year

By Jessalyn Schwartz

On June 7, 2016, the U.S. DOE Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released its 2013–2014 Civil Rights Data Collection survey of all public schools and school districts nationwide. The study examined data from 95,507 public schools, in 16,758 districts across the United States, representing 50,035,744 students. These students were 51.4 percent male and 48.6 percent female, including 14 percent students with disabilities. Broken down by race, the student population was 50.3 percent white, 24.7 percent Hispanic or Latino, 15.5 percent Black or African American, with the remaining 8.3 percent being Asian, multi-racial, or Native American/Pacific Islander.

The study measured a number of factors, such as discipline/school climate (bullying/harassment), restraint and seclusion, access to college and job readiness programs, teacher equity, and rate of retention. This was the first year that the OCR looked at school truancy, access to free or partial-pay preschool, educational opportunities within justice facilities, and the presence of law enforcement or school resource officers.

Focusing on absenteeism, 13 percent of students, or 6.5 million, were found to have been chronically absent. Of these students, more than 3 million were high school students, while a surprising 3.5 million were elementary school-aged (K–6). Students of color were found to be more at risk of being chronically truant than their white peers, and students with disabilities were between 1.3 and 1.5 times more likely to be habitually absent, depending on grade level.

Discipline and restraint/seclusion were areas that showed large equity gaps. 2.8 million K–12 students nationwide experienced one or more suspensions, made up of 1.1 million Black students, 600,000 Latino, 660,000 students benefiting from the IDEA, and 210,000 ESOL students. Black children were suspended 3.6 times more often than white students in preschool, with most preschool students suspended being male. Black students were found to have been 1.9 times more likely to be suspended without access to educational services than white students, and were 2.3 times more likely to receive a referral to law enforcement or face school-related arrests. The study goes further into detailing the demographics that were and were not disproportionately impacted in school discipline. Over 100,000 students were placed in seclusion settings or involuntary confinements, or faced physical restraint at school, including 67,000 served by the IDEA.

The report found that Black and Latino students have less access to high-level math and science courses and that race, ethnicity, disability, and English proficiency impact college enrollment. Further, there is unequal access to accelerated courses and AP programs for Black and Latino children, ESOL students, and students with disabilities, and these groups, in addition to other students of color are more likely to be retained or held back in school. The OCR report additionally evaluated educational class time and services in justice facilities, teaching and staff equity, the presence of civil rights coordinators in school districts, access to distance education and early learning programs, possibilities for credit recovery, and dual enrollment. This publication also included topics that were optional in the 2013–2014 data set, but will be highlighted in the 2015–2016 CRDC, such as allegations of bullying based on sexual orientation/religion, discipline-related transfers to alternative schools, the occurrence of preschool corporal punishment, and teacher turnover.

Jessalyn Schwartz is with the ABA Children and the Law Advisory Task Force in Boston, Massachusetts.

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