Black students and students with disabilities are far more likely than whites to face school discipline, including corporal punishment, suspension and expulsion, according to a report released Thursday by the ACLU of Missouri.
The report "From School to Prison: Missouri's Pipeline of Injustice," found that students subjected to school discipline are less likely to succeed and more likely to face legal trouble as they grow up.
"Disproportionate and excessive discipline of children not only deprives them of their right to education, but can also put them on a path to prison," the report said.
The ACLU compiled information from studies by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, and Missouri-specific data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The Rev. Dietra Wise Baker, organizer of St. Louis' "Break the Pipeline" campaign, said at a news conference that current disciplinary methods are "infected with racism" and must change. She has worked for years with troubled youth and said undue school discipline feeds their feelings of inferiority.
"They really do believe they are disposable and unimportant," Baker said.
Black students are removed from classrooms at rates far higher than whites, "creating a new kind of separate and unequal education," the report said.
The Department of Education found that during the 2013-2014 school year, the most recent available data, black students were nearly four times more likely to be suspended than white students. The discrepancy was even higher in Missouri, where black students were 4.5 times more likely to be suspended.
Missouri students with learning or behavioral disabilities were given out-of-school suspensions more than three times more often than non-disabled students.
Expulsions are becoming more common, too. The report found that between 2011 and 2014, the expulsion rate in Missouri doubled. Black students faced expulsion at a higher rate than whites.
Missouri is among 19 states allowing corporal punishment, and the report found that black Missouri students were about twice as likely to be subjected to spankings and other physical punishment.
The report encourages parents to seek clear explanations of disciplinary procedures and learn how to appeal disciplinary action. Students should be aware of their rights and speak with their parents about perceived disciplinary inequalities.
The report urges schools and school districts to address the underlying issues behind behavioral problems rather than simply sending children out of the classroom or home.
School boards and administrators are encouraged to work toward finding alternatives to suspension and expulsion, require more detailed reporting about student discipline, and fund mandatory teacher anti-bias training.
"We must think differently about student discipline," said Sharonica Hardin-Bartley, superintendent of the University City School District in suburban St. Louis.