Report: Utah schools more likely to punish students of color

FILE PHOTO - Seventh-grader Jayden Witter, foreground, discusses a recent conflict with another student solved through restorative justice, which included teachers and students gathering in circles for discussions, at Ed White Middle School, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in San Antonio. School districts in New York, Los Angeles and Denver are just some of those that have moved away from discipline policies that relied heavily on suspensions. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A new analysis of Utah public school disciplinary actions from 2012-2014 shows Native American students were disciplined at much higher rates than children of other ethnicities.

The numbers are based on a report titled “Misbehavior or Misdemeanor” by the Salt Lake City nonprofit Voices for Utah Children and the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law released on Monday, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/2riDdFU).

The report finds that the number of disciplinary actions against students overall has decreased. Utah public schools have issued about 30 percent fewer suspensions, expulsions, law enforcement referrals and in-school arrests in recent years compared with the 2011-2012 school year.

At the same time, the report also found racial and ethnic disparities.

During the 2013-2014 school year, more than 10 percent of Native American students were disciplined. That is almost double the disciplinary rate for other students of color and about three times more than white students.

In 2014, Native American students had a higher rate of schools referring them to law enforcement agencies, followed by black students. During the same year, the report found that less than 0.5 percent of white students were referred to law enforcement.

Expulsion numbers among Hispanic students were two times higher than white students. The study notes that the two groups had comparable rates in 2012.

“It is getting better,” researcher Vanessa Walsh said. “But it’s also getting worse.”

Changes are coming to Utah public schools that report co-author and Voices for Utah Children CEO Lincoln Nehring hopes will reduce racial and ethnic discrimination.

A new state law encourages home-based programs and counseling in place of juvenile detention and removes criminal penalties for academic infractions such as truancy.

“As we’re implementing legislation like that, changing policies, we can be cognizant of the disparities,” Nehring said.

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