Black students are disproportionately suspended from school when they're as young as three-years-old, according to new data released by the Department of Education this week, suggesting that the school-to-prison pipeline is set in motion even earlier than elementary school.

Despite fewer black children being enrolled in preschool, they're 3.6 times more likely to be suspended from school as white children, the report found:

And that disparity is actually slightly worse for black girls than boys. While black boys make up 19% of preschool children, they account for 45% of boys suspended; 20% of preschoolers are black girls, but they account for 54% of girls suspended.

While previous reports have shown that the number of black students in high school being suspended is disproportionately high, today's report from the Department of Education's Civil Rights Data Collection for the 2013–2014 school year shows that the disparity emerges the moment children enter the school system in preschool.


“Our systemic failure to educate some groups of children as well as others tears at the moral fabric of the nation,” U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. told reporters on a call about the report.

School suspensions are more than just a slap on the wrist for minority students: several studies have shown that high suspension rates lead to more students dropping out of school, often leaving them entangled in the criminal justice system. That disenfranchisement is a major part of what advocates refer to as the school-to-prison pipeline. From the New York Civil Liberties Union:

The School to Prison Pipeline operates directly and indirectly. Schools directly send students into the pipeline through zero tolerance policies that involve the police in minor incidents and often lead to arrests, juvenile detention referrals, and even criminal charges and incarceration. Schools indirectly push students towards the criminal justice system by excluding them from school through suspension, expulsion, discouragement and high stakes testing requirements.


Black students throughout their schooling are 2.3 times more likely to "be disciplined through law enforcement" compared to white students, the new data shows. And high schools with more Latino and black students are more likely to have school law enforcement officers on campus: 42% of high schools have them, compared to 51% of high schools with mostly (more than 75%) Latino and black students.

This latest report is the most comprehensive civil rights data ever collected on schools by the Department of Education, covering 99.5% of all public schools and including 50,035,744 students. It offers compelling evidence of the vastly different experience of white and minority students, and that the divide between black, Latino, and white students persists at every level of schooling in the U.S.