Expert: Student discipline data could draw review

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana could be at risk of a federal review of its school discipline policies because data show disproportionate numbers of males, minorities and students with disabilities being punished, an education expert has told state lawmakers.

Russell Skiba, director of the Equity Project at Indiana University, says Indiana is one of five states with male suspension rates higher than the nation for every racial and ethnic group. It also saw African Americans account for nearly a third of students who lost classroom time to suspensions and expulsions in 2012-2013, he said.

The startling data come as Indiana lawmakers study whether disparities exist in school disciplinary practices and determine whether they can take steps to stop them.

The number of Indiana schoolchildren facing suspension or expulsion from school has steadily declined over the last several years, the Evansville Courier & Press reported. But students still lost 587,084 days out of the classroom in the 2012-2013 school year, Skiba said.

Studies have shown that overusing out-of-school suspension and expulsion to discipline students places them at risk for academic disengagement and other negative consequences, Skiba said. He recommends the state instead give principals alternative programs to reduce suspensions and expulsions.

Some school districts have already adopted such practices. The Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. is in its third year of a program called PBIS, which stands for Positive Behavioral and Interventions & Supports.

The district has seen a decrease in office referrals during the first year of a school adopting PBIS, and its leaders anticipate the program will help further reduce suspensions and expulsions, said Paul Neidig, the district’s chief administrative officer.

“We are trying to look at what the behavior is and then assign what we think will help educate or change the behavior so it doesn’t repeat itself,” Neidig said.

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