FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 8, 2014
Contact: Jennifer Farmer, 202.487.0967
National Civil Rights and Community Groups Applaud DOJ/DOE Race and School Discipline Guidance for Public Elementary and Secondary Schools
Guidance Represents First Time the Federal Agencies Have Offered Legal Guidelines to Address and Reduce Discrimination in School Discipline
Washington – A coalition of national civil rights and youth and parent community groups today applauded the Obama Administration for issuing first-of-its-kind legal guidance to address racial discrimination in school discipline. The groups, including the Dignity in Schools Campaign, Alliance for Educational Justice, Gwinnett SToPP, Advancement Project and many others, have worked aggressively in states across the country to raise awareness about disparities in discipline. In a Baltimore press conference, representatives from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Education (DOE) affirmed racial discrimination in school discipline is a blatant violation of federal law.
“All children deserve access to a quality education, but too often, children of color are pushed out of the classroom through harsh school disciplinary policies, despite federal law that protects them,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “While the notion of a post-racial society is noble in theory, discrimination in school discipline is a major problem deserving of focused attention.”
Overly punitive school discipline practices include “zero tolerance” policies which often punish students for minor and subjective offenses. These policies impose stiff penalties for things such as being tardy to class, bringing a cell phone to school, talking too loudly, being labeled "insubordinate", "acting act" or not wearing the proper school uniform. The guidance makes clear that DOJ/DOE will carefully scrutinize “zero tolerance” practices due to their potential to violate the law.
“The DOJ/DOE guidance confirms what advocates on the ground have been saying all along: there are stark racial disparities in school discipline, and schools are needlessly funneling children of color from the classroom to the criminal justice system,” said Advancement Project Managing Director of Programs James Eichner.
The racial disparities in school discipline are profound. According to new data from the 2011-2012 school year which was included in the guidance from the Civil Rights Data Collection:
- African-American students without disabilities are three times as likely as their white peers without disabilities to be expelled or suspended;
- African-American students represent 15% of students in the Civil Rights Data Collection, but 35% of those suspended once, 44% of those suspended more than once and 36% of students expelled;
- Research shows that disparities are not driven by more frequent or serious misbehavior by students of color;
“The research shows a single out-of-school suspension increases a child’s risk of falling behind in their studies and later dropping out,” said Thena Robinson-Mock, Project Director for Advancement Project’s Ending the Schoolhouse-to-Jailhouse Track Campaign. “Fair and equitable school discipline policies promote school safety and are not incompatible with school safety, as some have wrongly claimed. The release of the DOJ/DOE guidelines is a watershed moment for us all.”
The DOJ/DOE guidance also clarified:
- School districts are responsible for the conduct of School Resource Officers (SROs) and there must be clear limits dictating the role of SROs and other security or law enforcement personnel.
- School systems should employ positive interventions and supports, ensuring there are sufficient counselors, social workers and other supportive adults in schools across the country.
- School districts should communicate and engage with parents, students and other members of the school community.
- School districts are required to keep sufficient records to demonstrate discipline policies comply with federal law and federal agencies may ensure compliance with these basic requirements.
- Exclusionary disciplinary policies such as suspensions or expulsions for things such as truancy are identified as particularly egregious.
“Advancement Project applauds these points, including the DOJ/DOE emphasis on data collection since poor record-keeping by schools districts has at times sidelined the ability of advocates to hold schools accountable for disparities and seek legal redress when issues arise,” Robinson-Mock added.
“For several years prior to the Obama Administration, children of color could not depend on the federal government to protect them from discrimination in schools even though Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 existed,” said Browne Dianis. “The DOJ/DOE guidance affirms this administration is committed to ensuring equal educational opportunities for all children.”
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Jennifer Farmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 614.596.0432.