WASHINGTON - More than 70 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or cases referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or African American, according to an Education Department report that raises questions about whether students of all races are disciplined evenhandedly in America's schools.
Black students are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended or expelled, according to an early snapshot of the report released to reporters. The findings come from a national collection of civil rights data from 2009-10 of more than 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of the nation.
The Education Department said it would release more details. "The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities, even within the same school," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters.
Duncan said that some school officials might not have been aware of inconsistencies in how they handle discipline, and he hoped the report would be an eye-opener.
Raul Gonzalez, legislative director at the National Council of La Raza who taught school in New York, said "zero tolerance" policies in both schools and the court system disproportionately affect black and Hispanic children. He said the policies have created a system that takes youths out of school and ultimately leads them into prison where they become hardened criminals. He said that more moderate responses are needed in schools, and he hopes that the report will lead to a change in policies in schools and in state laws.
"We've lost control of all judgment here, and it's almost always a black kid or a Hispanic kid" affected, Gonzalez said.
According to the Education Department's report, 42 percent of the referrals to law enforcement involved black students and 29 percent involved Hispanics, while 35 percent of students involved in school-related arrests were black and 37 percent were Hispanic.