PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island sent a letter to Providence school leaders Tuesday, urging them to address concerning trends in school discipline.
The ACLU said students of color are disciplined and suspended far more often than their white peers.
The ACLU said it reviewed disciplinary data from the 2017-2018 school year and found severe racial disparities in out-of-school suspensions, especially “for relatively minor and often subjective types of ‘misconduct,’ such as insubordination and disrespect.”
In its letter, the ACLU said African-American students in kindergarten through fifth grade were most affected by the disparity, and were three times more likely to be suspended than their white classmates.
The ACLU also said across all age groups, not only were African-American students suspended more often, but the average duration of both their suspensions and those of Latin students was 21% longer than the average duration of a suspension a white student received.
At Wednesday night’s special Providence City Council meeting, newly appointed interim Superintendent Frances Gallo said she’s aware of the racial disparities in discipline, and said she wants to change the culture in Providence classrooms.
“Even in my interview, I had a quote about those specific disparities,” said Gallo. “It takes decades to get that, and not having made corrections in the classrooms, not having assisted teachers in understanding cultural differences, that’s all reflective in that data, and so yes we will be addressing it.”
The ACLU’s letter asked school officials to take these four steps immediately:
- Suspension notices should specifically reference the standards in the 2016 law, which limits use of this discipline to seriously disruptive behavior, to confirm that the suspension is justified under that law.
- The Administration should bar certain vague and open-ended infractions from serving as the grounds for an out-of-school suspension.
- Elementary students should never be given out-of-school suspensions for any misconduct in the absence of evidence that it creates a clear and present danger to the health or safety of students or staff.
- Although state law requires school districts to provide reports to RIDE on corrective actions they are taking to address suspension disparities on the basis of race and disability, Providence has never submitted such a report. One should be prepared and submitted immediately.