WASHINGTON - African-American students in large school systems are arrested far more often on campus than their white peers, new federal data show. The data, from an Education Department civil rights survey released Tuesday, provide the government’s most extensive examination yet of how public schools bring police into the handling of student offenses.
The new figures also show continuing racial disparities in out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, which are far more common in schools than arrests and referrals to law enforcement.
“The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than nonminorities - even within the same school,’’ Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
Duncan cautioned that the government is “not alleging overt discrimination in some or all of these cases.’’ But he said educators and community leaders should join forces to address inequities.
The department’s Office for Civil Rights collected data from 72,000 schools across the country for the 2009-10 school year.
Overall, the data showed that 96,000 students were arrested and 242,000 were “referred’’ to law enforcement by school leaders, meaning the students were not necessarily arrested or cited.
In a more focused analysis of school systems with more than 50,000 students enrolled, the data showed that African-American students represented 24 percent of enrollment but 35 percent of arrests. White students accounted for 31 percent of enrollment and 21 percent of arrests. For Hispanic students, there was less of a disparity in arrests. They accounted for 34 percent of enrollment and 37 percent of arrests.
Such data about student contact with police had not been collected before on such a large scale. Police action on campus has become a growing concern as law enforcement presence has increased markedly in the past two decades, especially in the aftermath of the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999.