Black Preschoolers Suspended in Wild Disproportion to Their Numbers, Figures Show

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Attorney General Eric Holder appeared with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a Washington, D.C., school on Friday to speak out about the study.

Chuck Kennedy/MCT

Attorney General Eric Holder appeared with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a Washington, D.C., school on Friday to speak out about the study.

A punishment thought more appropriate for older students — suspension from school — is employed in pre-kindergarten and African-American preschoolers are suspended in wild disproportion to their numbers, the U.S. Department of Education revealed last week.

Public school data also showed that black students were suspended three times more often than their white counterparts. And students with disabilities were more than twice as likely to be suspended than those without disabilities.

“This is astonishing.  It’s unacceptable,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, appearing with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a Washington, D.C., school, on Friday.

The Civil Rights Data Collection pulled together a broad amount of information for the 2011-2012 school year from every school in the nation.

Data for the districts that have prekindergarten programs showed that 18 percent of pre-k students were black, but 48 percent of kids suspended from pre-k classes were black.

Advocates have strongly criticized the harsher punishments that black kids receive, their higher referral to law enforcement and the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

However, for the first time, data shows a racial disparity at an early age. The Civil Rights Data Collection for 2011-2012 is the first time discipline figures have been collected for pre-schoolers. It shows that nearly 5,000 preschool students were suspended in the 2011-12 academic year.

Among the entire public school population in 2011-2012, 5 percent of white students were suspended, but 16 percent of black students were. Black students were also disproportionately referred to the police and arrested, according to the CRDC report.

“This shocking breakdown reflects a disproportionate impact of school discipline on students of color,” Holder said.

Duncan called the report mind-boggling.

“[The data] present the first, detailed nationwide picture of the opportunity gap in America's schools,” Duncan said.

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