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Joint reporting reveals hidden suspensions of students with disablities

FILE - Lisa Manwell helps her son John Jinks, 12, with learning at their home in Canton, Mich., Sept. 21, 2022. Manwell says her son was improperly removed from his classroom last year because of behaviors that stemmed from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. (AP Photo / Paul Sancya, File)

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Annie Ma, race and ethnicity reporter in Washington who covers education, and Meredith Kolodner of The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit organization with whom AP partnersset out to document ways students with disabilities are excluded from the classroom – and from learning. Her reporting led her to advocates who described working with families whose children were essentially kept out of school, with none of the records that come with formal suspensions. The families claimed their schools couldn’t or wouldn’t accommodate their students’ disabilities — a violation of federal law — and said the practice had gotten worse during the pandemic.

Ma and Kolodner from The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit organization with whom AP partners, who had been pursuing the same topic. Together, they interviewed 20 families in 10 states, and a top Department of Education official.

The day after the project ran, two prominent U.S. senators, Democrats Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, urged the Department of Education to regulate informal removal as a prohibited, discriminatory action.

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