News

Feds push for new approach to classroom discipline

From wire service reports
January 9th, 2014

Obama administration seeks to end disparities in how discipline is meted out

holder-classroom-discipline

Attorney General Eric Holder said the problem often stems from well intentioned “zero-tolerance” policies that too often inject the criminal justice system into the resolution of problems.

The Obama administration has issued new recommendations on classroom discipline that seek to end the apparent disparities in how students of different races are punished for violating school rules.

The guidelines are likely to affect school IT departments or those who handle data collection and analysis, as they encourage schools to gather and monitor information about student discipline to ensure nondiscrimination.

Civil rights advocates have long said that a “school-to-prison” pipeline stems from overly zealous school discipline policies targeting black and Hispanic students that bring them out of school and into the court system.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the problem often stems from well-intentioned “zero tolerance” policies that too often inject the criminal justice system into the resolution of problems. Zero tolerance policies, a tool that became popular in the 1990s, often spell out uniform and swift punishment for offenses such as truancy, smoking, or carrying a weapon. Violators can lose classroom time or become saddled with a criminal record.

“Ordinary troublemaking can sometimes provoke responses that are overly severe, including out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and even referral to law enforcement—and then you end up with kids [who] end up in police precincts instead of the principal’s office,” Holder said.

In American schools, black students without disabilities were more than three times as likely as whites to be expelled or suspended, according to government civil rights data collection from 2011-12. Although black students made up 15 percent of students in the data collection, they made up more than a third of students suspended once, 44 percent of those suspended more than once, and more than a third of students expelled.

More than half of students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black, according to the data.

(Next page: What the recommendations say)