A pattern in Chesterfield and Henrico counties of suspending black students with disabilities at a disproportionately high rate has triggered a response from the state.
In the 2014-15 school year, a Chesterfield African-American student with disabilities was nearly four times more likely to be suspended long-term compared with other students with disabilities. During that period, Henrico’s African-American students with disabilities were 6.7 times more likely to be suspended long-term.
The pattern has persisted and worsened over time, leading the Virginia Department of Education to issue a mandate to several localities.
Chesterfield, Henrico and Richmond are among seven Virginia school districts mandated to set aside federal money received under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act this year.
Richmond was cited because for three years the city’s African-American students with disabilities have remained at least three times more likely to be identified as having “other health impairment” than other students with disabilities.
The state defines “other health impairment” as limited strength, vitality or alertness.
Julie McConnell, an attorney who runs the Children’s Defense Clinic at the University of Richmond, said that during the past six years, most of her clients from Chesterfield have shared similar characteristics.
The vast majority are African-American students, or students with disabilities. And they have been pushed out of school for such offenses as fighting or possession of small amounts of marijuana.
“It’s an unfortunate pattern we see. It’s very troubling,” McConnell said.
The mandates also come as the state is facing what the Legal Aid Justice Center called a suspension crisis, according to a May 2016 report from the JustChildren Program within the Justice Center.