Disproportionate Minority Contact and its Impact on Children with Special Needs

May 22, 2014

Removal from school is a key entry point into the school to prison pipeline and is a form a discipline that is disproportionately levied against children and youth with disabilities.  Recent data shows that “Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension (13%) than students without disabilities (6%).”

In addition, the combination of race and disability together greatly increase the likelihood of school removal.  “…[N]ationally, on average, 36% of all Black male students with disabilities enrolled in middle schools and high schools were suspended at least once in 2009-2010.

Students may also be removed from school through school district referrals to the juvenile justice system, and informal forms of school removal (called “constructive expulsion” or “push out”) and shortened school days. These students may be sent home informally for a few days or a few hours per day on a regular basis, without due process, in a manner that can result in significant time out of school.  Removals from school cause a two-pronged crisis: children have increased unstructured time, and time out of school makes it difficult for students to keep up academically.

It doesn’t have to be so. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) requires states to address Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) and local level programs have demonstrated that thoughtful school-based diversion programs can both decrease the number of youth arrested because of school discipline problems, and increase the number of students who are successful in school.

Data exists at the state and local levelregarding school removal, disaggregated by student groupings. Careful evaluation of this data can be an important element of a state’s analysis of DMC, and can help ensure that students do not enter the juvenile justice system inappropriately.   

Diane Smith Howard is Staff Attorney for Juvenile Justice and Education at the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN)


This post is part of the JJDPA Matters blog, a project of the Act4JJ Campaign with help from SparkAction.

The JJDPA, the nation's landmark juvenile justice law, turns 40 this September. Each month leading up to this anniversary, Act4JJ member organizations and allies will post blogs on issues related to the JJDPA.  To learn more and take action in support of JJDPA, visit the Act4JJ JJDPA Matters Action Center, powered by SparkAction.

Diane Smith Howard