VIRGINIA (WVEC) -- Congressman Donald McEachin wants the US Department of Education to step up efforts to protect students' civil rights.

He sent Secretary Betsy DeVos a letter expressing concern over the disproportionately high suspension rates for black students and students with disabilities.

A new report by the Legal Aid Center found that during the 2015-16 school year, Virginia's African American public school students were suspended four times more than white and Hispanic students. It also found disabled students were three times more likely to be suspended than non-disabled students.

"I think it comes from a misunderstanding of these children. I think it comes from an apprehension that they look different. They act different. Sometimes they are physically bigger than children in the classroom and that creates the "other" factor."

McEachin's letter also addresses concern over the rollback of Obama era policies that were designed to protect civil rights.

Earlier this year, McEachin requested a formal investigation into documented disparities in student treatment in the schools in Virginia's Fourth Congressional District.

He now urges DeVos to consider the disparities along with recent reports of racially charged incidents occurring in some schools, when enforcing civil rights' protections.

"What we want to do is keep the Secretary informed because we're not going to allow her to say that she didn't know."