New School Discipline Guidance Addresses Racial Disparities

By Patrick McNeil, Leadership Conference Communications Assistant

The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice on Wednesday released federal guidelines intended to reduce racial disparities in school discipline and encourage best practices to aid local officials in complying with federal law.

“Today’s release of long overdue guidance on racial discrimination in school discipline is an important step forward in creating a more equitable education system. But this guidance alone will not eliminate our country’s dropout crisis, race-and-class-based achievement gaps, and the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in a statement after the release. “The real test of the government’s commitment to fixing these entrenched problems will be its willingness to take strong and immediate enforcement actions regarding school districts with the worst records.”

According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, African-American students make up 44 percent of those suspended more than once and 36 percent of those expelled, even though they only make up 15 percent of the population surveyed. More than half of students arrested in school or referred to law enforcement are African-American or Latino, demonstrating a clear disparity in school discipline rates.

Targeted at policymakers, school leaders, district officials, and other stakeholders, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice have established three guiding principles to advance school climate and discipline:

(1) Create positive climates and focus on prevention;
(2) Develop clear, appropriate, and consistent expectations and consequences to address disruptive student behaviors; and
(3) Ensure fairness, equity, and continuous improvement.

“Zero tolerance policies, corporal punishment, suspensions, and expulsions have long had a discriminatory impact on students of color and students with disabilities … Now is the time for the administration to renew its commitment and take concrete steps to eliminate these disparities,” Henderson said.