- Associated Press - Friday, March 21, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana is part of a continuing national trend of educators shelling out greater punishments to black and other minority students, data released Friday by the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights division shows.

The 2011-2012 national data finds black and other minority students in Indiana are more likely to spend time out of the classroom in suspension than their peers, a disciplinary practice that puts those students at greater risk of falling behind or dropping out of school, said Russ Skiba, project director for the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative and a professor at Indiana University.

“The strongest predictor of academic success is simply time spent in school and learning,” Skiba said. “Being removed from school is a threat to that.”

Black girls are among those most disproportionately affected in Indiana, the report shows.

About 16 percent of suspended Indiana girls were black, according to the report. The state either has the same or higher suspension rates than the national average among all races except American Indians and Alaskan Natives, at 6 percent compared with the national average of 7 percent.

White girls accounted for only 3 percent of Indiana suspensions, which might stem from both cultural and gender norms, Skiba said.

“We expect girls to be more compliant and quieter,” he said. “In fact, a lot of the reasons for racial disparities for both boys and girls is defiance. It isn’t major misbehaviors.”

The education department released guidelines in January to steer schools away from discriminatory punishments. Strategies to reverse the racial gaps already are in place in Fort Wayne Community Schools, which adopted new strategies to address racial gaps in discipline, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.

Students might not realize what’s expected of them in school, she said. Teaching them proper behavior before throwing the book at them has helped cut down on suspensions for those who might not even realize their mistake and avoid the consequences of missing class.

“We can’t just expect students to walk into our buildings knowing how to behave in that setting and what to do,” Stockman said. “They don’t know unless we teach them.”

National data also show the cycle starts as early as preschool for some minority students who are suspended. Nearly half of preschool children suspended from school more than once are black, although they represent about 20 percent of attendees.

Numbers of disabled student suspensions also were disproportionately high.

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