• Expert: Discipline disparity numbers should prompt discussion

    By: Kerry Kavanaugh

    Updated:

    GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga.,None - A new report by the U.S. Department of Education revealed African-American and Hispanic students were disproportionately punished compared to their peers.

    Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh talked to one local expert who said the numbers should be a starting point for a conversation, not a conclusion.

    "To take this information and treat it as an accusation or treat as anything other than what they are, which are numbers, would be inappropriate," said Sharon Hill with the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

    The data in the Civil Rights Data Collection report are supplied without context.

    Hill said the numbers showed a jumping-off point for more research.

    "We need to be able to go deep. We need to have accurate information as we have those conversations," Hill said.

    Hill's center tackles social justice issues and has done similar reporting to that in the Civil Rights Data Collection program.

    Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh examined some of the numbers collected from Gwinnett County, the state's largest school district.


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    The district had 160,000 students in the 2009-2010 school years.

    They were 32.7 percent white, 27.5 percent black, 25.2 percent Hispanic and 10.1 percent Asian.

    But the percentages shift when you look at out-of-school suspensions issued that year.

    Of the 11,205 suspensions in 2009, 44.2 percent were issued to black students, 29.7 percent to Hispanics and 17.1 percent to white students.

    Hill said their research showed a similar trend statewide.

    "We learned that African-American students are, throughout the state and over time, three times more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions than students of other races," Hill said.

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    Numbers in the Department of Education report indicated students weren't just punished disproportionately, but minorities were unevenly represented in high-achievement classes.

    The students enrolled in Gwinnett's gifted and talented program in 2009 were 55 percent white, 18 percent Asian, 13 percent black and 9 percent Hispanic.

    Kavanaugh also discovered disproportionate figures for students with disabilities.

    "I was really surprised when I saw those numbers as well. I thought I was the only one when this happened," Gwinnett County mother Carla Diaz said.

    Diaz's son is in middle school and she said he's been diagnosed with ADHD.

    In the Gwinnett school district in 2009, students with disabilities accounted for 11 percent of the student population.

    Yet they accounted for 22 percent of the out-of-school suspensions.

    Diaz admits her son has a history of acting up, but doesn't always feel his punishments fit the crime.

    "As it is, they are already struggling and trying to stay on task. That kind of suspensions will only put him behind," Diaz said.

    She told Kavanaugh she feels the same way for all students.

    "We need to have this information brought forward," Hill said. "They are the beginning, though, for the conversation."

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