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Feds push for new approach to classroom discipline


Issued Jan. 8, the recommendations encourage schools to ensure that all school personnel are trained in classroom management, conflict resolution, and approaches to de-escalate classroom disruptions.

Among the other recommendations:

• Ensure that school personnel understand they are responsible for administering routine student discipline, instead of security or police officers.

• Draw clear distinctions about the responsibilities of school security personnel.

• Provide opportunities for school security officers to develop relationships with students and parents.

The government advises schools to establish procedures on how to distinguish between disciplinary infractions appropriately handled by school officials, compared with major threats to school safety. And, it encourages schools to collect and monitor data that security or police officers take to ensure nondiscrimination.

The recommendations are nonbinding, but, in essence, the federal government is telling the school districts around the country that they should adhere to the principles of fairness and equity in student discipline or face strong action if they don’t.

Already, in March of last year, the Justice Department spearheaded a settlement with the Meridian, Miss., school district to end discriminatory disciplinary practices. The black students in the district were facing harsher punishment than whites for similar misbehavior.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledged the challenge is finding the balancing act to keep school safe and orderly, but when it comes to routine discipline, the “first instinct should not be to call 911 when there’s a problem.”

Research suggests the racial disparities in how students are disciplined are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color, according to a letter sent to schools with the recommendations.

“For example, in our investigations, we have found cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students,” the letter said. “In short, racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem.”

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