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Eric Holder, Arne Duncan tell schools to stop pushing students into school-to-prison pipeline

January 8, 2014

by Jennifer Parker, jparker@naacpldf.org, 212-965-2783

Today, for the first time, the United States Departments of Education and Justice jointly released guidance that outlines civil rights obligations regarding school discipline that schools and districts throughout the country must follow affirming that “racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem.”

Dignity in Schools Campaign-NY protests to stop school-to-prison pipeline 041513
Today’s guidelines by the secretaries of justice and education culminate campaigns around the country, often led by students, to end schools’ zero-tolerance policies and the harsher discipline of Black, Brown and disabled students for the same infractions as white students. This protest, on April 15, 2013, was organized by the Dignity in Schools Campaign-NY.
The guidance was included in a resource package with guiding principles and a resource guide from the Department of Education encouraging “educators to proactively redesign discipline policies” to promote safe, fair policies which will move away from exclusionary discipline and towards prevention and positive school climates that improve educational outcomes for every student in the country. Together, this resource package is an invaluable resource for educators and advocates who are working diligently to end the school-to-prison pipeline by eradicating overly punitive disciplinary measures that disproportionately affect students of color.

“These much needed guidelines send a strong message from the federal government that it takes seriously the criminalization of children, particularly children of color, in schools. It acknowledges that race plays an improper role in school discipline practices with long-term negative consequences for students’ educational outcomes,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

The departments’ investigations have identified “cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students.” Sadly, recent data collected by the U.S. Department of Education continue to show significant racial disparities in school discipline, as Black students nationwide are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled compared to their white peers. Nationwide, 95 percent of out-of-school suspensions are for non-violent infractions – such as disrespect.

The United States Departments of Education and Justice jointly released guidance that outlines civil rights obligations regarding school discipline that schools and districts throughout the country must follow affirming that “racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem.”

“There is no question that this federal guidance comes at a critical time. For far too long, youth of color have received harsher disciplinary sanctions than their white peers – even for the same infractions. Educators and advocates must now use this guidance as a tool to keep students in schools where they belong,” said Leticia Smith-Evans, interim director of the Education Practice at LDF.

“The recommendations importantly encourage community involvement in the process of developing discipline guidelines. It is imperative that parents and students are involved in these critical education decisions. They are a key part of the school community and their voices must be heard,” Smith-Evans added.

Students cheer policy change
Last May in Los Angeles, in response to this and other student protests, the School Board restricted suspensions, banning them for “willful defiance,” which accounts for almost half of California's 700,000 yearly suspensions.
The guidance appropriately outlines different treatment and disparate impact standards that will be used in assessing the actions of school officials; and where school officials violate Titles IV or VI, potential remedies include correcting the student records of those who have been the victims of discrimination, ensuring that school personnel receive appropriate training on discipline policies and practices, and providing school-based supports for struggling students whose behavior repeatedly disrupts their education and/or the education of other students.

The guidance is a laudable example of the federal government’s serious commitment to correcting civil rights violations disproportionately affecting African-American school children. It follows the U.S. Department of Education’s confirmation that it will investigate a complaint filed by LDF and the National Center for Youth Law on behalf of impacted students and two local organizations – Texas Appleseed and the Brazos County branches of the NAACP, which challenge the Bryan Independent School District’s discriminatory pattern of issuing criminal citations for minor misbehavior – a practice which has a disparate impact on African-American students, who are ticketed at four times the rate of their peers.

LDF continues its advocacy to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline as it uses legal, legislative and policy advocacy to eliminate racial disparities in school discipline.

The full guidance is available at http://www.ed.gov/school-discipline/.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., was founded under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall in 1940. It has been a separate entity from the NAACP since 1957. Jennifer Parker can be reached at jparker@naacpldf.org.

 

13 thoughts on “Eric Holder, Arne Duncan tell schools to stop pushing students into school-to-prison pipeline

  1. Sandra Stone

    Does the D.O.E. intend to address this? Since his days in Chicago, Duncan has favored closing struggling neighborhood schools in low income areas and opening charters to investing in small class sizes, wrap around services (social workers, nurses, special ed teachers, school psychologists, etc.), and enriched curriculum with requisite resources (music, art, libraries, science/math labs, etc.). Many charters use strict, no excuses discipline methods to coerce conformity. Teach for America corps members, Duncan's favorite temp work force for charters, receive 5 weeks training for two years' work in classrooms with children whose cultural backgrounds and personal stories they are encouraged to ignore. KIPP is the largest of national charter networks and this type of discipline and school environment is typical of their business.
    http://www.alternet.org/education/kipp-forces-5th

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