Investigate, please

3/31/2017, 5:34 p.m.

Complaints continue about a reported regime of discipline within Richmond area public schools that unfairly targets African-American students and African-American students with disabilities.

The complaints are backed up by data in a May 2016 report by the Legal Aid Justice Center and from the Virginia Department of Education.

The data show that in Richmond, where nearly one in six public school students is in special education programs, African-American students with disabilities are three times more likely to be suspended than other students with disabilities.

In Henrico County, African-American students with disabilities are 6.7 times more likely to be suspended for 10 or more days than other students with disabilities.

And in Chesterfield County, African-American students with disabilities are nearly four times more likely to be hit with long-term suspension that others.

Last August, the Richmond Branch NAACP and two African-American students filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights about the disparate treatment.

Experts have said the stringent discipline has harmful effects, including contributing to students failing classes and dropping out of school and into the prison pipeline.

The problem is serious and pernicious and pervasive enough that Congressman A. Donald McEachin requested an investigation by federal education officials into the disproportionately high suspension rates of African-American students, as well as those with disabilities.

We are grateful for broader attention to this issue, which has impacted thousands of youngsters in Richmond alone.

Unfortunately, with the Trump administration and Betsy DeVos now in charge of the U.S. Department of Education, we are uncertain what to expect or whether the federal Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights will be gutted like the U.S. Justice Department.

We only hope that Rep. McEachin’s request will result in a deeper probe of the problem by truly knowledgeable and caring federal officials, and that the investigation will encompass public school systems not only in Metro Richmond, but throughout Virginia.

We believe strategies are needed to solve this serious problem, and we hope an investigation will lead to such blueprints for change.