PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — An “alarming” rate of out-of-school suspensions issued in Rhode Island have been given to elementary school students, including kindergarteners, according to a report released Monday.

The report, conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island (ACLU), examined suspension data from the three years preceding the pandemic.

The report found that suspensions were handed out most often for minor offenses, such as “disrespect” and “insubordination,” to K-5 students.

Throughout the 2018-19 school year, the report revealed that there were 116 out-of-school suspensions given to kindergarteners and first graders. In total, there were more than 1,400 out-of-school suspensions of K-5 students that year, which makes up 15% of suspensions across all grades.

The report also uncovered “severe suspension disparities for students of color and students with disabilities across all grades,” according to the ACLU.

Across all three school years, the report found that black and multi-racial students statewide experienced out-of-school suspensions at a rate more than one-and-a-half times higher than their school’s population, while students with disabilities were suspended at a rate of more than two-and-a-half times higher.

“These significantly disproportionate rates of suspension of students of color and students with disabilities have been consistent for more than 15 years,” the ACLU noted.

The report concluded that, in order to address these disparities, legislation must be passed to “significantly curb the ability of schools to issue out-of-school suspensions to K-5 students.”

“In order to truly provide an equitable, uplifting and educationally enriching school environment for all students in our state, we must make sure that no students are being inappropriately removed and excluded from the classroom,” ACLU of RI Policy Associate Hannah Stern said.

Districts should also be held accountable for analyzing suspension data and responding to any disparities regarding race or disability.

The report suggests that districts are ignoring the 2016 law designed to limit the use of out-of-school suspensions to only serious acts of misconduct as well.

“Normal adolescent misbehaviors or social-emotional needs should not be met with punishment,” Stern said. “Rather, we must ensure that students have appropriate supports, and that discriminatory practices are being actively eradicated from schools.”

Stern hopes this report will spark change across all districts.

“I think they need to be looking at this data and using it as a jumping off point to see what they can do to improve the educational experience for these students,” she said.

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