Each year, many students miss class due to suspensions and expulsions - even for minor infractions of school rules - and students of color and with disabilities are disproportionately impacted. The United States Department of Justice, in collaboration with the Department of Education, this week released a school discipline guidance package as part of an effort to end these discriminatory practices.
Federal law prohibits public school districts from discriminating in the administration of student discipline based on race, and the Departments of Justice and Education are required to investigate alleged violations. The Justice Department in 2012 sued officials in the city of Meridian, Mississippi, for operating a "school-to-prison pipeline" that incarcerates students for minor infractions like dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect and affects mostly black and disabled children.
Meridian is not alone in disproportionately locking up children of color for minor misbehavior in school. Recent data collected by the Department of Education show that black students nationwide are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled compared to their white peers. Nationwide, 95 percent of out-of-school suspensions are for non-violent infractions, such as disrespect. More than 50 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement are Hispanic or African American.
Federal investigations found the substantial racial disparities in school discipline are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color. Rather, African American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students.
The guidance packet is designed to help schools administer student discipline in a manner that is not racially discriminatory. It recommends public school officials use law enforcement only as a last resort and outlines remedies for illegal discrimination, including correcting the student records of those who have been the victims of discrimination, ensuring that school personnel receive appropriate training on discipline policies and practices, and providing school-based supports for struggling students whose behavior repeatedly disrupts their education and/or the education of other students.
"A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal's office, not in a police precinct," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "This guidance will promote fair and effective disciplinary practices that will make schools safe, supportive, and inclusive for all students. By ensuring federal civil rights protections, offering alternatives to exclusionary discipline, and providing useful information to school resource officers, we can keep America's young people safe and on the right path."