New Federal Guidelines on Discipline Announced

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.

Related Links:
“New Federal School Discipline Guidance Addresses Discrimination, Suspensions,” Education Week.

“School Climate and Discipline,” U.S. Department of Education.

“Holder, Duncan Announce National Guidelines on School Discipline,” The Washington Post.

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New Report: High Suspension Rates for Pennsylvania’s Hispanic Students

Study after study shows that Latino and black students tend to be suspended at much higher rates than white students.

Yet another study recently grabbed news headlines making the same findings. In “Beyond Zero Tolerance,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania found that ten of every 100 Latino students in the state have received out-of-school suspensions at least once.

Latino students are three times more likely than white students to be suspended. Researchers concluded that Pennsylvania has one of the highest out-of-school suspension rates in the nation.

Although Latino students are about 8.4 percent of students in the state’s public schools they made of 14.5 percent of students receiving out-of-school suspensions.

The York City School District, which has a considerable Puerto Rican and Mexican student population, had the highest suspension rate in the state. The district was found to issue 91 suspensions for every 100 students. About 27 percent of Latino students there had been suspended at least once.

The ACLU criticized zero tolerance policies and the increasing reliance by school districts of police officers on campuses.

“Part of the problem is that under zero tolerance, a wide range of behaviors, from dress code violations to talking back, are now being punished as disorderly conduct, disruption, and defiant behavior,” Harold Jordan, author of the report, told Fox News Latino. “Those districts that have moved away from zero tolerance practices have found that other types of interventions can make a positive difference.”

The report makes a number of recommendations, including taking students out of class only if they pose a threat to school safety and examining policies for dealing with discipline for students with disabilities.

Researchers suggested that districts look at the “suspension gap,” or differences in suspension rates between groups. Just like the academic “achievement gap,” they feel that the discipline gap must also be closed.

Related Links:

“Beyond Zero Tolerance: Discipline and Policing in Pennsylvania Public Schools,” ACLU of Pennsylvania.
“ACLU: 1 in 10 Pa. Public School Students Given Suspensions,” Philly.com.
“High Number of Latino Students Suspended in Pennsylvania, ACLU Report Says,” Fox News Latino.
“ACLU: York City Has Highest Number of Out-of-School Suspensions in Pa.,” York Dispatch.

ACLU: Rhode Island Suspends Latino Students at High Rates

A new report by the ACLU of Rhode Island finds that Latino and black students are being suspended at much higher rates than white students, relative to their student population size.

The report is based on an analysis of data from the Rhode Island Department of Education, between 2004 and 2012.

In “Blacklisted: Racial Bias in School Suspensions in Rhode Island,” the ACLU says that the racial disparity begins as early as elementary school. A Hispanic elementary students is three times as likely to be suspended as a white students, the report says. The suspensions also often result from minor behavioral issues, often characterized as “disorderly conduct” or “insubordination/disrespect.”

“Out-of-school suspensions are used too often to punish infractions that in no way justify the long-term consequences that suspensions can carry,” said ACLU Policy Associate Hillary Davis, the report’s author. “For minority students, reconsideration of the use of out-of-school suspensions is particularly critical.”

Eight of the school districts analyzed disproportionately suspended Hispanic students for all eight years in which they were studied. According to the report, Hispanic students made up 18 percent of students and 28 percent of those suspended; black students made up 9 percent of students, and 18 percent of suspensions;  and white students made up 69 percent of students and half of those suspended.

According to an article in the Boston Globe, the ACLU is backing legislation that would require school districts in Rhode Island to look for disparities in their disciplinary data annually and then develop plans as to how to eliminate any that exist.

‘‘I look forward to reading the full report that the ACLU has developed,” Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said in a statement, the Globe reported. ‘‘I will discuss with my team and with school leaders across the state any steps we might take to ensure equity and fairness regarding school discipline.’’

Earlier in May, similar concerns about Latino and black students being suspended at high rates prompted the Los Angeles Unified School District to stop using “willful defiance” as a justification for suspension. Defiance tended to include misbehavior such as swearing and not following a teacher’s orders. At the time, school board president Monica Garcia said she was hoping to stop the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Related Links:

– “ACLU: Blacks, Hispanics suspended more in RI,” Associated Press.

– “ACLU Report Says Black and Hispanic Youth Bear Brunt of School Suspensions in Rhode Island,” ACLU.

– “Los Angeles Schools Ban ‘Willful Defiance’ Suspensions,” Latino Ed Beat.

DOJ Reaches Settlement with Florida School District

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Palm Beach County School District in Florida have reached a settlement agreement following complaints that the school district discriminated against immigrant families.

The department had been investigating complaints that the school system failed to enroll children based on their immigration status and that its disciplinary actions discriminated against students based on their immigrant status or limited English proficiency.

The Palm Beach County Legal Aid Society and the Florida Equal Justice Center filed the complaints against the district in August 2011, the Florida Sun Sentinel reported, saying that two teenagers were not able to register at Boca Raton High School because they lacked documents. The department had also investigated complaints that immigrant children and ELLs were suspended and arrested for offenses that were minor and not violent.

About 20,000 ELLs are district students.

In a statement, Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said that the agreement would remove barriers to student enrollment, and promote an inclusive environment.

The district must agree to enroll all students, no matter their immigration status. The district must provide translation services during the enrollment and disciplinary process.

The Justice Department has previously cautioned school districts that they must enroll undocumented immigrant children who reside within their boundaries, due to the Supreme Court’s Plyler v. Doe decision.

School district spokesman Nat Harrington told the Palm Beach Post that the district was happy to reach an agreement.

“We remain committed to treating all of our students fairly regardless of their language, backgrounds or their parents’ status,” he said.

Related Links:

– “Palm Beach County schools settle with feds on immigrant policies,” South Florida Sun Sentinel.

– “Justice department finalizes pact with PBC School District to end bias in discipline, registration policies,” The Palm Beach Post. 

– “Justice Department Reaches Settlement with School District of Palm Beach County, Fla.,” U.S. Department of Justice.

– Plyler v. Doe Video History.

Latino Group Reaches Agreement with Denver Schools, Police

A Latino advocacy group has reached an agreement with the Denver Public Schools and Denver Police Department that limits the role of scope of police in schools primarily to criminal threats to school safety–and not routine discipline matters.

Padres & Jovenes Unidos (Parents & Youth United) has worked for several years to combat what it refers to as the school-to-prison pipeline, which it partially blames on harsh discipline and zero tolerance policies.

The intergovernmental agreement seeks to define the role of police in schools, provide due process protections to students and families, requires input on the policing process, and mandates training prior to police being assigned to schools, Ricardo Martinez, the group’s leader, wrote in a commentary for The Denver Post.

He wrote that instead of the police ticketing or arresting students for non-criminal incidents such as talking back to teachers or swearing, the students should be referred to school administrators for disciplinary action.

The agreement seeks to solve discipline problems without using criminal punishment.

The Denver Post reports that Denver Police Chief Robert White said that “our job is to deal with serious violations of the law, and that’s what we’re going to do.” There are 15 Denver police officers working in 16 schools currently.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg told the newspaper that he expects the agreement to result in lower numbers of suspensions, expulsions and referrals to law enforcement.

The timing of the agreement is interesting, since it seems to go against the increased national discussion about the need for greater police presence on campus following the Sandy Hook Elementary incident.

Related Links:

– “Agreement keeps Denver police out of most school discipline problems,” The Denver Post.

– “As School-To-Prison Pipeline Continues to Swallow Students, Denver Works to Stem Flow,” The Huffington Post. 

– “Guest Commentary: Limiting the role of police in our schools,” The Denver Post. 

– Padres & Jovenes Unidos (Parents & Youth United)

Study Analyzes Suspension Rates by Race, Ethnicity and Disability

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA has released a study of nearly 7,000 school districts finding that about 7 percent of Latino students received out-of-school suspensions at least once during the 2009-10 school year.

The “Opportunities Suspended” report used federal data and also found that 5 percent of white students and 17 percent of black students received out-of-school suspensions. Male students with disabilities had particularly high suspension rates. The data represented about 85 percent of the nation’s public school students. The group warned that students who are suspended at high rates are more likely to drop out and end up in the juvenile justice system.

These averages obscure the fact that there are school districts and states with significantly higher suspension rates. In Connecticut, about 14 percent of Latino students had been suspended at least once–the highest average of any state in the nation. In the Hartford, Connecticut, schools about 44 percent of Latino students had been suspended. In the Thornton Township High School District in Illinois, about 42 percent of Latino students had been suspended.

The report warned that suspension rates among minority male students with disabilities were disturbingly high. This group of students was also likely to be suspended multiple times within the same year. In the Chicago Public Schools, about 29 percent of Latino male students with disabilities had been suspended at least once, compared with a shocking 73 percent of black students and 20 percent of white students.

However, some districts recorded lower suspension rates of Latino students than white students. In the Memphis City Schools, about 29 percent of Latino male students with disabilities had been suspended at least once. By comparison, about 53 percent of black students and 36 percent of white students had suspensions. However, in Memphis, the suspension rates among all racial and ethnic groups was disturbingly high.

Earlier in the summer, the project, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the Fall River Public Schools in Massachusetts for its high suspension rates of minority and disabled students. Data there revealed that 23 percent of Latino students, 26 percent of black students and 13 percent of white students had been suspended.

Education Week reporter Lesli Maxwell poses an interesting question on her Learning the Language blog: How often are English language learners suspended? It’s not a question that’s answered in the report, unfortunately.

You can mine these data to find out where your district or state stands compared with the national average.

Related Links:

– “Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School.” The Civil Rights Project. 

– “Fall River Public Schools suspend black and Latino students, and students with disabilities, at unusually high rates.” The Civil Rights Project.

– “Researchers sound alarm over black student suspensions.” Education Week.

– “Disabled students almost twice as likely to be suspended, analysis finds.” The New York Times. 

– “Fall River schools facing scrutiny.” The Boston Globe.

In California, Latino and Black Students Are Suspended Disproportionately

A new report by the UCLA Civil Rights Project on the high suspension rates of students in California is generating buzz among legislators and educators alike. The study estimated that more than 400,000 students were removed from class at least once in the 2009-10 school year–“enough to fill every seat in all the professional baseball and football stadiums in the state.”

Of the students in all of the state’s districts, about 7 percent of Latino students, 6 percent of white students, 18 percent of black students, and 3 percent of Asian students had been suspended. The study found that in the 10 districts where suspension rates were highest, nearly one in four students had been suspended. In those 10 districts, suspension rates were 21 percent for Latinos, 21 percent for whites, 41 percent for blacks and 14 percent for Asians. The highest rates for Latino and black males were in the Stockton City United district, where 38 percent of black males and 19 percent of Latino males had been suspended at least once.

Co-author Daniel Losen said many of the removals are for vague infractions such as disrespect, defiance and dress code violations. “The numbers in our report indicate an absolute crisis in many California districts since suspending students out of school–with no guarantee of adult supervision–greatly increases the risk for dropping out and involvement in the juvenile justice system,” Losen said.

The Sacramento Bee reports that the report that six bills aimed at lowering the suspension rates are being considered by the state’s lawmakers. The study found, for example, that at Roseville Joint Union High School District near Sacramento, 7.1 percent of Latino students had been suspended compared with 3.7 percent of white students.

But in some districts, white students were actually more likely than Latinos to be suspended, although rates among all students were high. The Los Angeles Times pointed out that in the Manteca Unified District south of Stockton 30 percent of Latinos, 33 percent of whites and 60 percent of black students had been suspended. In the Los Angeles Unified district, whites (6 percent) and Latinos (7 percent) were disciplined at somewhat similar rates.

Racial imbalances have been found in other states as well; have you examined the numbers in your state recently? That information should be available by district and even by school. Is your school district using “zero tolerance” policies or are they instituting efforts to address the racial imbalances?

How do teachers feel about the imbalances? I have often found that reports such as this make teachers feel as if they are being accused of being racist, making it tougher to deal with disciplinary issues. What can be done to intervene with the families of these students to change their children’s behavior? Many districts now use behavior interventions and are training teachers on such techniques.

Finally, the study cites a six-year Texas study of middle and high schools that found that suspensions have no academic benefits.

California reporters–or others interested–can find the report, along with more detailed data broken out by district, here.

Report: Hispanic and Black Students Account for Majority of School Arrests

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education found that almost three-quarters of students involved in arrests or other incidents handled by police are Latino or black, The Washington Post reports. “The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities, even in the same school,” the paper quoted Education Secretary Arne Duncan as saying.

Why? Is punishment more severe for Hispanic and black students than white students for the same behavior? Or are Hispanic and black students committing more infractions than white students?

Duncan added that the department doesn’t allege “overt discrimination” in all of the cases. Some civil rights groups blame the “zero tolerance” behavior policies in place at many schools. The study noted that 29 percent of referrals to police were Hispanic and 37 percent of students arrested were Hispanic. The data were from 2009-10 and included a sample of 72,000 schools.

Do your schools have a racial gap in discipline and, if so, what are they doing to address it? In several districts I’ve covered, administrators have emphasized to teachers that they should keep misbehaving students in the classroom as much as possible and deal with the issues there instead of referring them to the principal’s office or an alternative school. In some cases, teachers–once told about racial inequalities–complained that they felt accused of racism if they referred minority students for discipline issues.

Meanwhile, The Post cites several civil rights groups who point the finger at schools. Raul Gonzalez, legislative director at the National Council of La Raza, said removing children from classrooms puts them in the pipeline toward prison and argued that less severe discipline should be meted out. “We’ve lost control of all judgment here, and it’s almost always a black kid or Hispanic kid” affected, Gonzalez told the Post.

You can find resources on the study here.