A new report by the Education Department is raising questions about whether Latino and African American students face harsher treatment in school compared to their non-minority peers.

The report shows more than 70 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or cases referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or African-American.

Black students are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended or expelled, according to an early snapshot of the report released to reporters. The findings come from a national collection of civil rights data from 2009-10 of more than 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of the nation.

The Education Department said it would release more details Tuesday.

The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities, even within the same school.

- Education Secretary Arne Duncan

"The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities, even within the same school," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters.

Duncan said some school officials might not have been aware of inconsistencies in how they handle discipline, and he hoped the report would be an eye-opener.

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Raul Gonzalez, legislative director at the National Council of La Raza who taught school in New York, said "zero tolerance" policies in both schools and the court system disproportionately affect black and Hispanic kids. He said the policies have created a system that takes kids out of school and ultimately leads them into prison where they become hardened criminals. He said more moderate responses are needed in schools, and he hopes that the report will lead to a change in policies in schools and in state laws.

"We've lost control of all judgment here, and it's almost always a black kid or a Hispanic kid" affected, Gonzalez said.

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According to the Education Department's report, 42 percent of the referrals to law enforcement involve black students and 29 percent involved Hispanics, while 35 percent of students involved in school-related arrests were black and 37 percent were Hispanic.

Black students made up 18 percent of the students in the sample, but they were 35 percent of students suspended once and 39 percent of students expelled, the report said.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press. 

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