The Departments of Education and Justice have released new federal guidelines for all K-12 public schools to ensure fairness in administering school discipline. The guidance, called Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline, provides instruction on how school leaders can handle infractions in a way that does not discriminate against racial or ethnic groups or overuse measures that remove students from school.
The guidance discusses how school leaders can seek alternatives to “exclusionary” penalties like expulsion and suspension, which remove students from valuable classroom time and are often handed out for nonviolent offenses.
“In Philadelphia, between 2003 and 2009, 30 to 42 percent of out-of-school suspensions were issued out on claims of ‘disruption,’” said Harold Jordan, a community organizer at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. Jordan, who also chairs the Notebook’s board of directors, participated in discussions about creating the guidance.
According to government data, during the 2011 school year, more than three million public school students received out-of-school suspensions, and over 100,000 students were expelled.
Students of color and students with disabilities are far more likely to be removed from school for disciplinary reasons than other students. African American students are more than three times more likely than their White peers to be suspended or expelled, though often for very similar offenses.
Federal officials emphasized that wide variations in suspension rates by race and by region cannot be explained by differences in student behavior, Jordan said. “Sometimes it becomes convenient to use the discipline system to remove a kid from school who isn’t doing well academically, not fitting in, or not getting along with school staff in other ways.”
Samuel Reed, a Beeber Middle School teacher, said he sees the effects of unfair discipline first-hand.
“I see the disproportionate number of young males who are harshly disciplined because many schools lack the resources and personnel to address the root cause of trauma that many students bring with them to school.”
Along with the guidance, accompanying materials include a directory of federal school climate and discipline resources and a guide of “best practices” for school district leaders who want to improve their policies.