Advocates blast ‘alarming’ suspension practices at public schools

Advocates blast ‘alarming’ suspension practices at public schools
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Civil rights and disabled rights advocates Monday called on the state Education Department to change its suspension practices, saying students with disabilities and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students are being disproportionately punished.

Last week, the Hawaii Disabilities Rights Center filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, calling for an investigation.

The ACLU of Hawaii followed that up on Monday with letters to principals and area superintendents, asking them to seek alternatives to suspensions.

“The statistics are pretty alarming that kids in Hawaii with disabilities are suspended at twice the length of time as kids on the mainland,” said Louis Erteschik, Hawaii Disability Rights Center executive director.

The complaints are based on federal data for the 2015-16 school year.

Those statistics show students with disabilities in Hawaii lose 95 days of instruction per 100 students each year, which is more than double that of students without disabilities.

Nationally, students with disabilities lose 41 days of instruction per 100 students annually.

Meanwhile, according to the ACLU, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students lose 75 days of instruction per 100 days of school.

Additionally, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students make up 39 percent of students in special education in the islands but more than half of all those suspended.

The Special Education Advisory Council said in its most recent report that there were more than 2,000 suspensions of students with disabilities in the 2017-18 school year.

Those figures mean students with disabilities are suspended at roughly three times the rate of students without disabilities, the council reported.

The state Department of Education told Hawaii News Now in a written statement Monday that suspensions have actually dropped in recent years due in part to intervention and support programs.

But it did not provide details.

The ACLU warned that the social and economic impacts of suspending students for long periods of time can be costly.

“Punitive measures like out of school suspensions lead to the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Rae Shih, legal fellow with the ACLU.

“You’re putting them in situations that you increase contacts with the juvenile justice system and further on to the adult criminal justice system.”

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