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Civil Rights Groups Call Out Hawai‘i DOE

August 5, 2019, 2:55 PM HST
* Updated August 5, 2:57 PM
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Two local civil rights organizations have called upon the Hawai‘i Department of Education (DOE) to reform its suspension policies after alleging a suspension pattern unfavorable toward students with disabilities.

The Hawai‘i Disability Rights Center (HDRC) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i Foundation (ACLU) released a statement on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, urging the Department of Education to reform school suspension practices as the school year begins. The HDRC has also formally asked for federal investigation in response to suspension patterns toward students with disabilities revealed by local school data, according to an ACLU press release.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection show Hawaiʻi to be the worst state in the nation for public school students with disabilities. Such students lose 95 days of instruction time per 100 students enrolled due to suspensions, which is 53 days more than students without disabilities, who lose 42 days per 100 students enrolled, the release stated.

The HDRC filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights over the number and disparity of out-of-school suspensions received by students with disabilities. In Hawaiʻi, students with disabilities are suspended for more days than any other state.

The ACLU of Hawai‘i sent open letters to 15 Complex Area Superintendents, detailing the out-of-school suspension rates in key high schools and urging principals and DOE officials to follow best practices and use alternatives to suspension instead.

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Suspension data reveals disturbing trends. In addition to concerns over suspension of disabled students, race information collected also shows that Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and Asian students lost the most instructional time in Hawai‘i compared to other states, with 75 and 24 days lost per 100 students enrolled, respectively.

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”We believe that the over reliance by Hawai‘i’s schools on suspension of students with disabilities is a violation of their civil rights,” said Louis Erteschik, executive director of the Hawai‘i Disability Rights Center. “DOE’s lengthy and frequent suspensions have been well-publicized in the Star Advertiser; Civil Beat and in the annual report of the Special Education Advisory Council. DOE must have been aware of its high suspension rate for years. However, it has not made public any new programs, policies or studies to address the issue. It has seemingly been completely ignored by DOE. In the weeks since this has received significant press attention, we have attempted to contact DOE to try to determine if it has any plans to address its high suspension rates. We have received no meaningful response.”

“This is a failure of its mandate to provide for the education of children with disabilities,” Erteschik continued. “It suggests students with disabilities are subjected to treatment which is different from the treatment to which similarly situated students without disabilities are subjected. This leads to the unwarranted exclusion of students with disabilities from educational programs and services, and violates their right to a Free Appropriate Public Education. For that reason we believe that the Federal Government needs to step in and investigate how the DOE is treating students with disabilities.”

A Tableau data dashboard with statistics and analysis can be found at https://tabsoft.co/2K8czrf.

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The full ACLU report, 11 Million Days Lost: Race, Discipline, and Safety at U.S. Public Schools, is available at https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/final_11-million-days_ucla_aclu.pdf.

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