Educators, White House Re-Think School Discipline Policies


The US Department of Education has released maps which detail the locations where students are most likely to be suspended from school in an effort to draw more awareness to unequal treatment and its future consequences.

Rebecca Klein of The Huffington Post writes that the maps specify whether suspended students are Native American, black, Hispanic, or disabled. This release took place on the same day that the White House hosted a conference on school discipline, during which discussions among school leaders, government officials, and educators centered on ending the school-to-prison pipeline.

Researchers found that students who are suspended from school are more likely to drop out of school later, less likely to graduate on time, more likely to repeat a grade, and often enter the juvenile justice system. In January 2014, the Obama administration published a set of guidelines to encourage schools to use suspension only in the most extreme cases.

“Too often, so-called zero-tolerance policies, however well intentioned they might be, make students feel unwelcome in their own schools; they disrupt the learning process,” said former Attorney General Eric Holder in January 2014.

The Office of Civil Rights has collected data showing that over 3 million students each school year are suspended or expelled, with the possibility of black children facing suspension or expulsion three times more likely than white students. In an effort to curb this pattern, initiatives have been announced including a national resource center headed by the Department of Justice to assist school discipline reform efforts.

 “Creating and sustaining safe, supportive schools is absolutely essential to ensuring students can engage in the rich learning experiences they need for success in college, work and life — that’s why rethinking school discipline is critical to boosting student achievement and improving school outcomes,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a press release.

The highest rate of suspension occurs in the Southeast, reports Lyndsey Layton of The Washington Post. Since the 1970s suspensions have risen nationwide, partly because of a zero-tolerance culture. As the use of suspensions grew, racial disparities widened between students of color and white students.

The reason for the disparity is complicated. An out of proportion number of black students live below the poverty line or live with only one parents, both of which can negatively affect student behavior. Other factors that might explain the imbalance are unintended bias, unequal access to highly effective teachers, and differences in school leadership methodology.

At the conference, several school districts and states were acknowledged for having made positive changes to school discipline approaches. Baltimore City Schools have moved toward a rehabilitation model for students who misbehave and the state of Maryland has enacted statewide changes which involve a more constructive policy.

Los Angeles Unified School District was the first district to stop suspensions based on “willful defiance,” which includes actions like refusing to turn off a cell phone. A disproportionate share of black students were receiving suspensions for relatively frivolous infractions. In Syracuse, New York, a new discipline code was put into place which trained staff in alternative discipline and included the hiring of an independent monitor to oversee the new code.

Yuma News Now reports that other initiatives and resources announced at the conference included a guide entitled Addressing the Root Causes of Disciplinary Disparities; a resource guide – Rethink School Discipline: the Resource Guide for Superintendent Action; and the continuing US Department of Education’s #RethinkDiscipline Public Awareness Campaign, which builds on the President’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, the White House Council on Women and Girls, and the Supportive School Discipline Initiative.