Posted On June 12, 2019
The U.S. Department of Education is outlining new policies designed to dismiss key Obama-era guidelines on school discipline. The Obama administration issued these guidelines as a response to the disparate negative impact that school discipline policies were having on students of color.
Major Obama directives stated that schools who receive federal funding must adhere to civil rights laws in disciplinary measures, and that suspensions and expulsions must be considered as a last resort.
Kaitlin Banner, an attorney for the civil rights group the Advancement Project, quoted in the Washington Post, said, “We know from many other studies that there are no discernible differences in the way that black students behave in school.” Rather, “The disparities come from the way that adults in the school building are responding to the student behavior.” And with black students facing suspension at 3.8 times the rate of white students, the gap is widening. On the ThinkProgress website, Russell Skiba, a professor of school psychology at Indiana University who works with schools to address changes to student discipline practices, said, “The data shows that places that implement more suspensions and expulsion have higher rates of dropout, lower achievement, and are more likely to result in referral to juvenile justice.”
Recent findings by both the Civil Rights Data Collection and the Government Accountability Office back up claims of racial disparities in discipline. Black students were 15 percent of the student population for the 2015-2016 school year but accounted for more than twice that number in arrests, according to CRDC’s findings. The GAO’s study found that racial discrimination exists in high-income and low-income communities, challenging the idea that poverty is the main reason for the disparities.
DeVos has rescinded similar guidance for sexual assaults on college campuses. In addition, the Education Department said they’ll no longer investigate civil rights cases related to transgender students and which bathroom they choose based on their gender identity. There is ongoing evidence the school-to-prison pipeline is a widespread problem in our public school system.
Former Obama-era guidelines on school discipline were also critical to responding to what leading scholars have identified in the last few decades as the emergence of the school-to-prison pipeline, which links school discipline to incarceration. The Institute for Social Progress has focused on the school-to-prison pipeline in several conferences and research publications.