Lawmakers discuss racial disparity in school suspension, expulsion stats

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INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 16, 2014) - When students get in trouble at school, should there be more rules or standards for their discipline? And does race play a factor?

A panel of state lawmakers gathered Tuesday at the Statehouse to discuss the topic.

“It’s an important issue,” said state senator Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, who co-chairs the interim study committee on education. “When suspensions happen, are they legitimate? Are they proper? Are they favoring one race over another race?”

And many experts say the numbers do indeed show a racial disparity.

“For a black student at (some schools), they're 2.3 times more likely than a white student to be suspended,” said Nathaniel Williams with the Urban Education Studies program at the IU School of Education.

“We cannot continue to be subjective in our thought process, but we have to be really concrete and concerned about how we're going to address our children,” said state Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, who authored a bill on the topic last year that lead to Tuesday’s study committee hearing.

Still, other lawmakers said they questioned what the numbers meant.

“If the child is actually committing the offense, I’m having a hard time seeing what the problem is,” said state Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour.

“This is a very complex issue,” said Williams. “This law or whatever comes out of this will be just a starting point. Because it is culture, it is disposition, it is history, it is America, it is all those things and above.”

The study committee will meet again next month, but it's still not clear if Tuesday's discussion will lead to any new proposals or legislation when the General Assembly convenes again in January.