Harding High School in Bridgeport. The city's schools hosted the state's first mental health program to focus on trauma. Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CTMirror.org file photo
Harding High School in Bridgeport. Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CTMirror.org file photo

Latino students in Connecticut are suspended from school at twice the rate as their white peers even though they are vastly outnumbered by white students, according to a report released Thursday by Connecticut Voices for Children.

Latino students also experience harsher punishments for the same behaviors than their white counterparts, leading to more expulsions and lower graduation rates for this population, according to the advocacy group.

These disparities are especially egregious, the report said, when you take into account the fact that white students comprise 54 percent of the state’s K-12 population. Latino students, in comparison, account for 25 percent.

But with the final settlement of Alicia B. vs. Malloy, a case brought against the state in 2015 to address the substandard alternative education offered to expelled children across the state, such inequities could be under closer scrutiny.

This settlement, which was announced Thursday, “requires that the State issue additional guidance to school districts, provide resources on reducing expulsions to school districts, families and the community, and monitor and address racial disparities in expulsions.”

Additionally, the state will be required to provide expelled students with individualized learning plans that meet the standards for alternative educational opportunities that were developed, in part, in response to the original lawsuit.

The state has been required since 2017 to provide expelled students with “a full time, comprehensive experience, where the time devoted to instruction and learning is comparable to what the student would experience in a regular environment.”

In order to address the racial disparities, the authors of the Connecticut Voices for Children report believe data must be both more plentiful and easier to access. They specifically recommend that state improve access to data about school discipline.

“The state Department of Education has to release the types of things that students get expelled for, such as bringing a weapon to school, physically or verbally threatening behavior, etc. and then they break it down by race, but not by race and gender,” said Lauren Ruth, who co-authored the report with Camara Stokes-Hudson.

Currently, in order to see how the expulsion data and other disciplinary data for race and gender intersect, a specific request must be filed with the state department of education. Ruth and Stokes-Hudson say the state should simply release the more specific data from the outset.

The data that is available shows that there has been improvement in disciplinary actions, chronic absenteeism, and graduation rates in all racial groups, however the gap between racial groups is not decreasing.

“In a lot of areas in recent years we have seen some improvement,” Stokes-Hudson said. “But the disparity, the gap, still exists.”

The report by Connecticut Voices for Children also delves into the lack of Latino and other minority teachers in the state, the low enrollment in advanced courses and specialty programs by Latino students, and the large number of Latino students who are chronically absent.

The state is taking other steps to address these gaps. In May, for instance, lawmakers approved legislation requiring the Department of Education “to take certain actions to recruit and retain minority teachers.”

The state “has taken action to address all of the areas recommended in the report,” said Peter Yazbak, director of communications for the department of education.

In addition to recruiting minority teachers, the department is looking to expand anti-bias training, expand efforts and support for teachers of color, and expand access to programs and interventions related to chronic absenteeism.

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