Four years ago, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division jointly issued guidance documents, reminding school districts of the law and giving them a road map to identify, avoid and remedy discriminatory disciplinary policies. We are very concerned the U.S. Dept. of Education, under the direction of Trump/DeVos, will rescind the guidance. The current administration has rescinded other guidance documents that help parents and school systems navigate the rights of children including guidance supporting students with disabilities.
Please read our op-ed below in USA Today with Allison Brown of Communities for Just Schools Fund and Gwinnett STOPP co-founder Marlyn Tillman. Remember that school safety includes emotional too. All students must be emotionally & physically safe at school.
Allison R. Brown and Marlyn Tillman, USA Today Opinion contributors Published 4:36 p.m. ET Jan. 6, 2018
Rollback has potential to re-enforce school-to-prison pipeline
It took 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for the federal government to produce guidance that clarifies how the law should protect students of color from the racial discrimination they too often face when it comes to school discipline.
Now, the guidelines may be on the brink of elimination.
Education department officials met with parents and teachers who are pushing to discard the rules, arguing that they make schools less safe and hamper the ability for teachers to discipline students. And last month, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights participated in a hearing to discern whether laws designed to protect students of color with disabilities from discriminatory discipline are working.
Based on some recent DOE decisions, civil rights activists fear that the Trump administration is gearing up to kill the guidelines, worsening the damage to black and brown children caused by unfair discipline.
The decision would fall in line with other administration actions that have slowly chipped away at the rights and securities of students.
In October, the DOE rescinded documents that spelled out rights for students with disabilities. The department also dropped some protections for transgender students and rescinded previous guidance for schools on handling sexual misconduct and violence.
Biases from educators have an immediate impact. Black students are expelled, suspended and thrown in juvenile detention more frequently than their white counterparts for the same behaviors.
But even worse are the long-term effects: Excessive discipline against black children causes some to be held back in school and others to drop out and contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline. Students of color who are forced to repeat a grade or who drop out altogether have an increased likelihood of ending up in prison.
In 2014, the U.S. departments of Education and Justice called for school districts to ensure that discipline policies didn’t have a disproportionate impact on or discriminate against certain ethnic and racial groups as well as students with disabilities.
Federal guidance plays a key role in keeping all kids in school and helping schools to implement in-school disciplinary measures.
Grassroots community leaders, parents, and youth actively pushed for years for the guidance.
Research shows that biases, implicit and explicit, too often govern classroom decisions.
During the 2013-2014 school year, black children were three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended. In the 2015-2016 school year, black students in Washington, D.C., were seven times more likely to be suspended.
The message to these students is that school is not a place for them.
It’s the wrong message.
Despite laws to create equal education for all children, there has never been a system of education equally accessible to children of color as there is for white children. We must resist the very American tendency to look only at the individual student and blame them for an education system corrupted by history.
Suspensions, expulsions and referrals to law enforcement, instead of changing behavior, become what one researcher describes as “toxic interventions.”
The rate of misbehavior for black and white students is about the same.
As a parent organizer, I saw this disproportionate discipline first hand with my own, very quiet, black, 8-year-old son, who is gifted and also has a learning disability. His teacher sent him to the office because he didn’t follow her direction. I decided to do a surprise school visit. I saw several disruptive white students the teacher ignored.
Critics of the guidelines who argue that it hampers school districts from administering discipline are using scare tactics. Their goal is to frighten teachers and parents into imagining schools with rogue criminal children roaming the hallways targeting teachers and students.
The data doesn’t support that.
In many places, since the 2014 guidance was issued, suspensions have gone down. The guidance has helped thousands of parents and students understand their rights and schools’ responsibilities.
It has enabled some schools to re-evaluate how they discipline all children. It encourages them to build community within the schools and examine why negative behavior is occurring and address it. More teachers are getting trained on how to better handle discipline practices so we can keep kids in school where they belong.
Repealing the discipline guidance would mean returning to ineffective so-called “zero-tolerance” policies and other discipline practices that disproportionately push our most vulnerable youth of color and those with disabilities, out of school.
It’s easy to suspend or expel a child. It’s much more difficult to unlearn implicit biases.
We owe it to our children to work harder to keep them in school.
Allison R. Brown is executive director of the Communities for Just Schools Fund, a national donor network working to foster supportive learning environments and end the school-to-prison pipeline.
Marlyn Tillman is a parent organizer and leader with the Gwinnett Parent Coalition to Dismantle the School to Prison Pipeline. She recently served on the Gwinnett County Human Relations Commission.
Available online at https://usat.ly/2n4yXpR