9 investigates special-needs students getting suspended at higher rates

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — They’re some of the most vulnerable students in the classroom, but a sobering school discipline report showed that students with special needs are far more likely to be disciplined than others.

Almost 1 out of 4 students suspended last school year had some kind of special need.

[LINK: NC Public Schools Discipline Report]

Garry Ginyard’s 8-year-old son Jeremiah has autism. He is one of more than 14,000 students with special needs in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district who are in what is called the exceptional children, or EC, program.

Ginyard said everything was going well until this year.

“The first time he was suspended, he was suspended for two days for honking the horn on the bus,” Ginyard said.

Since then, he said, Jeremiah has been suspended four more times. Ginyard feels that instead of helping him, the school is simply pushing Jeremiah aside.

“He knows this now. He knows that if he does this he gets to be home with mommy and daddy,” Ginyard said.

“Is the system failing your son?” Eyewitness News reporter Mark Becker asked.

“Yeah, I feel it is,” Ginyard replied.

Channel 9 reviewed North Carolina statistics and found that EC students make up about 13 percent of the state’s students. But last school year, they accounted for 24.7 percent of the students given short-term suspensions. It’s almost twice the rate of other students.

“Is suspension the right answer though?” Becker questioned Bill Hussey, director of North Carolina's EC Division.

“Ummm… no,” Hussey said.

“So why are we doing it so often?” Becker asked.

“That’s a good question,” Hussey replied.

Hussey said that in most cases, suspending students doesn’t help them in the long run.

Hussey shared some sobering statistics about CMS. In the 2015-2016 school year, 33.7 percent, or 1 out of 3 EC students, was suspended for 10 days or more.

Abby Childers, chair of the Exceptional Children’s Parent Advisory Council, said those students often get frustrated in the classroom, which leads to anger, resentment, and, in many cases, suspensions.

“Can improvements happen? Absolutely. But at the same time, are they going to happen overnight? No,” Childers said.

Hussey said Department of Public Instruction officials are going to lawmakers to ask for more money for EC programs that would offer alternatives to suspensions.

But that could take years to filter down to the classrooms and to students like Jeremiah.

Ginyard hopes it’s not too late for his son.

“I just want to hurry up and get him going so we can hurry up and unlearn these things,” Ginyard said.