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Civil Rights Data Collection: Policing in our Schools

Exploring race-based disparities in how frequently students are referred to law enforcement or arrested—all of which impacts educational outcomes.



The data

This viz includes race-disaggregated 2017-2018 data from the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on student referrals to law enforcement and arrests by law enforcement. The public-use data files provided by ED include privacy protections at the school level, but the process used by ED ensures that aggregation to the state level is still accurate. This viz shows data at the school-district level.

The visualization

This dashboard focuses on two critical aspects of student involvement with police that show significant and persistent racial disparities. The dashboard makes it possible to explore data on states, down to the school district level, and to compare trends across states. The "District Leaderboard" tab reveals data organized by districts along a range of indicators. 

The historical context

Referrals of students to law enforcement reflect how schools respond to disciplinary events, and the decision to refer students—and the subsequent choice of law enforcement to arrest the student—can be influenced by racial prejudice.  The data represented in this visualization reflects the ongoing patterns of bias within school districts and states, and reveals different outcomes in student results based on school choices around disciplinary avenues.

The current implications

Students are more likely to succeed outside of the criminal justice system and if they progress uninterrupted through school. However, these opportunities are not uniform and systemic racism plays a substantial role in more non-white students, particularly Black students, being referred to law enforcement and disproportionately arrested for behavioral issues, or being held back a grade.


Data Deep-Dive

Key takeaways to guide analysis

Understanding referral and arrest data

It's essential to look at both: Referral data shows disciplinary choices by schools; arrest data reflects police department action.

Population demographics matter

While some states—like Oregon—appear to refer few Black students to law enforcement, it's important to look at the data in the context of the state's racial demographics.

Differences in student exposure to police

Across states, white students are far more likely than their Black counterparts to attend a district where no students are arrested.