Disabilities – Public Law 108-446: Disabilities Education Improvement Act Requirement of Modifications of Policies in Response to Significant Discrepancies in Suspension Rates of Disabled and Non-Disabled Students
(May 12, 2012; rev. Nov. 22, 2014)
Prefatory note added November 22, 2014:The first four paragraphs of this subpage, and language in “Race and Mortality Revisited,” Society (July/Aug. 2014) (at 14) to similar effect of that in third and fourth paragraphs below (which pertain to identifying significant discrepancies between suspension rates of children with disabilities and suspension rates of other students) were written without consideration that the referenced statute required that educational agencies determine whether there exist significant discrepancies in suspensions of students with disabilities “among local educational agencies in the State” as well as between students with and without disabilities in particular local educational agencies (school districts). I only started to consider the implications of the across-district analysis when reviewing “Measuring Significant Discrepancy: An Indicator B4 Technical Assistance Guide” (September 2011), a document produced by the Data Accountability Center (the same entity producing the guides on measuring significant disproportionality discussed in the IDEA Data Center Disproportionality Guide subpage of the Discipline Disparities page).In light of the pattern whereby the rarer an outcome the greater tends to be the relative difference in experiencing it and the smaller tends to be the relative difference in avoiding it (as discussed in the referenced article and scores of other places), inasmuch as significant discrepancies among districts district and significant discrepancies between students with and without disabilities within districts are both likely to be examined in terms of relative differences in suspension rates (in terms of the district rate compared with an overall state for the former discrepancy and in terms of the rate for students with disabilities compared with the rate for students without disabilities for the latter discrepancy), there will tend to be a pattern of inverse relationship between the size of the former discrepancy and the size of the latter discrepancy.That is, districts with high suspension rates for disabled students compared with other districts will tend to show smaller relative differences between suspension rates of students with and without disabilities than districts with low suspension rates for disabled students.See the Suburban Disparities subpage of the Discipline Disparities page regarding the tendency for suburban districts (which will tend to show comparatively low suspension rates for blacks and whites) to have comparatively high relative differences between black and white suspension rates.
Many studies of racial differences in discipline rates also study differences between rates at which disabled and nondisabled students are suspended from class or school. In contrast to the study of racial differences in discipline rates, where many researchers seem to attribute much of the observed difference to racial discrimination, it does not appear that researches attribute difference in suspension rates of disabled and non-disabled students to intentional bias against the disabled.
Indeed, while there exists a question as to whether a significant part of observed racial difference result from race-based differential treatment of students engaging in the same conduct (see the Disparate Treatment sub-page), there is nothing implausible in the notion that race influences the judgment of administrators. That disabled students would be treated more harshly than non-disable students is far less plausible. Thus, the distributionally-driven forces described on this site would seem to carry greater force with respect to differences between suspension rates of disabled and non-disabled students. Accordingly, one would expect quite commonly to observe that the less likely an institution is to suspend students, the smaller will be relative differences in rates of avoiding suspension, but the larger will be relative differences in suspension rates, of disabled and non-disabled students.
Consider then the implications of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-446). Section 612(a) (22) mandates that in order to be eligible for federal assistance under the law, a state must determine whether “significant discrepancies are occurring in the rate of long-term suspensions and expulsions of children with disabilities” compared with non-disabled children. If such discrepancies are found, the state must review and consider revising “practices, and procedures relating to the development and implementation of [individualized education programs], the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, and procedural safeguards” to ensure compliance with the law.
The suggested modifications of policies appear to be of the type commonly recommended to generally reduce suspension rates. Thus, schools or school districts showing the largest relative differences in suspensions – which commonly will be entities already with the lowest suspension rates – are required to take steps to further reduce those rates. Such further reductions, while tending to reduce relative differences in rates of avoiding suspension, will tend to make the relative differences in suspension rates even larger.