MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The SPLC Action Fund has submitted comments to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education (ED) regarding the administration of school discipline. The comments urge ED to recognize and address racial disparities and other forms of discrimination that remain prevalent in our public education system while also moving forward with new discipline procedures that improve upon the vague and ineffective guidelines that exist today. The comments include a special focus on how the presence of school police, or School Resource Officers, exacerbate race-based, disproportionate discipline.
Students who are subjected to punitive and exclusionary discipline, including suspensions, expulsions, and corporal punishment, are at increased risk of dropping out of school and having future involvement with the juvenile or criminal justice system. It has also been proven that our existing school discipline policies disproportionately impact students with disabilities and students of color – especially Black girls – even though they do not commit more disciplinable offenses than white students. In the South, these disparities are even more significant.
The following is a statement from Margaret Huang, President and CEO of SPLC Action Fund.
"We are calling on the Department of Education to analyze the conditions that push so many students out of school, and aggressively work to dismantle those conditions. We know that conditions such as a zero-tolerance disciplinary culture, overreliance on exclusionary discipline, and excessive police presence in schools have led to stark discipline disparities for Black students, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth. Research consistently shows that Black students receive more severe disciplinary outcomes for the same behaviors as white students, and their behaviors tend to be perceived as more problematic or threatening.
“The federal guidance to schools on discipline must be updated, strengthened and reissued. The current guidance has left local and state educational agencies without clarity on how to effectively reform their discipline policies and practices. Unless the current guidance is updated and strengthened, school systems will continue policies that increase racial disparities in discipline while doing nothing to deal with trauma or restorative justice. Especially in the South, schools continue to rely on punitive and harmful disciplinary policies and practices – including corporal punishment – that are not restorative or trauma-informed, serve no pedagogical purpose, and are discriminatorily enforced – especially against Black students and students with disabilities. New guidance should emphasize that schools must address and respond to student behavior using a social and racial justice focused lens of equity. Allegations of civil rights abuses must also be taken much more seriously and investigated in a timely manner.”
A copy of the comments, which were prepared by SPLC staff from the Children’s Rights Legal Practice Group, Learning for Justice, and Policy can be read here