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Black students are more likely to be suspended from U.S. public schools — even as tiny preschoolers.
The racial disparities in American education, from access to high-level classes and experienced teachers to discipline, were highlighted in a report released Friday by the Education Department's civil rights arm.
The suspensions — and disparities — begin at the earliest grades.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan called it “stunning” that preschoolers as young as 4 are being suspended and expelled — nearly 7,500 in a single year, the report found.
“The fact that the school-to-prison pipeline appears to start as early as 4 years old before kindergarten should horrify us,” Duncan said at a news conference Friday on the findings. “We must do better, and we must do better now.”
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Black children represent about 18 percent of children enrolled in preschool programs in schools, but almost half of the students were suspended more than once, the report said. Six percent of the nation’s districts with preschools reported suspending at least one preschool child.
Advocates long have said get-tough suspension and arrest policies in schools have contributed to a “school-to-prison” pipeline that snags minority students, but much of the emphasis has been on middle school and high school policies. This was the first time the department reported data on preschool discipline.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration issued guidance encouraging schools to abandon what it described as overly zealous discipline policies that send students to court instead of the principal's office.
Overall, the data show that black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at a rate that’s three times higher than that of white children. Even as boys receive more than two-thirds of suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates than girls of any other race or most boys.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday there remains “certain preconceptions” that people have of minority children and suggested teachers be given cultural sensitivity training.
“Effective school discipline will always be a necessity,” Holder said. “Schools must be safe … but a routine school discipline infraction should land a student at the principal's office at worst, not a police precinct.”
— Erik Ortiz
The Associated Press contributed to this report.