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Report: Montana Public Schools Disproportionately Discipline Indigenous Students

A yellow school bus.
Shinichi Sugiyama
Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
A report released December 4 says that indigenous students are disproportionately disciplined in Montana public schools.

A new report says that indigenous students are disproportionately disciplined in Montana public schools.  Study authors say more support instead of discipline could lead to higher academic achievement rates.

Montana public schools are failing to meet their legal obligation to provide an equal education to Native students, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana released Wednesday. It says indigenous students are more likely to be pulled out of school and referred to law enforcement than their peers.

Laurie Walker, a social work professor at the University of Montana, helped write the report. She says schools funnel Native American students into the criminal justice system, especially when they come from unstable homes.

"They come to school hungry, tired and therefore a little irritable and cranky when they experience day to day racism in the classroom. That ends up escalating really quickly," Walker says. 

Sometimes to arrests. That happens six times more often to indigenous students than their peers, according to the report.

"If a student is disciplined, when really they just needed a helping hand, they most likely get more and more marginalized," Walker says.

Native students areless likely to graduate high school and more likely to miss school than white students, according to a fall 2018 report from the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

Montana public schools are required to help develop the full potential of each student and provide an equal educational opportunity by Article X of the state constitution.

The Office of Public Instruction says it’s committed to closing achievement gaps among student groups in Montana. A spokesperson says it’s unfortunate that students of color appear to be disciplined at a higher rate because it impacts academic progress.

The ACLU report says that to narrow that gap, Montana public schools should limit police presence and discipline that pulls students out of class. It urges campuses to provide better mental healthcare for students and training for teachers to better manage student behavior.

Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America corps member.