Public Schools Urged To Weed Out Discriminatory Disciplinary Policies

Federal government's new guidelines issue advice to teachers and administrators

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The Departments of Justice and Education issued new guidance to public schools on Wednesday, aimed at helping teachers and administrators weed out disciplinary practices that discriminate based on race and ethnicity.

The federal guidelines are the first to address the issue of racially discriminatory sanctions within schools, often seen as perpetuating a “school-to-prison” pipeline where disorderly pupils are expelled, only to end up turning to crime. “A routine school discipline infraction should land a student in a principal’s office,” said Attorney General Eric Holder, “not in a police precinct.”

The new guidelines offer alternatives to existing school discipline policies, with focus on teacher training, support services, and outreach to the local community.

Though the Civil Rights Act protects students from racial discrimination, zero tolerance policies and other punitive measures within public schools have been criticized for targeting minorities. The Department of Education said three million public school students received out-of school suspensions in 2011 and over 100,000 were expelled. African-American students were three times more likely than their white peers to be suspended, often for similar actions. 

“The impacts of exclusionary policies are not felt equally in every segment of the population – with students of color and those with disabilities often receiving different and more severe punishments than their peers,” said Holder.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which advocates for the reduction of punitive practices within schools, released a statement praising the federal government’s new guidelines. “This is a victory for all who care about creating environments where students can thrive,” said Deborah Vagins, a senior legislative counsel at the ACLU.