Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder urged a major overhaul of school discipline policies on Wednesday.
In a joint announcement of new guidelines on the issue, they sharply criticized school districts that suspend minorities at disproportionately high rates and also punish students for minor infractions. They also were critical of infractions being handled as criminal matters. The announcement was a major takedown of so-called “zero tolerance” policies.
The Washington Post reported that Duncan said discrimination is “a real problem today — it’s not just an issue from 30 or 40 or 50 years ago.”
A number of civil rights organizations lauded the announcement.
“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,” said NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund president Sherrilyn Ifill, Education Week reported. “It acknowledges that race plays an improper role in school discipline practices with long-term negative consequences for students’ educational outcomes.”
Education Week reported that school discipline policies may be in violation if they target certain student groups or that disproportionately impact a certain racial or ethnic group.
Are you familiar with your local school district’s discipline policy? How many students are being suspended and what are their ethnic backgrounds? How many students end up arrested? You can obtain this information to better inform your reporting. You may be surprised by how many students have been suspended at least once or how frequently students are arrested.