Feds offer new resources on school climate, discipline

Feds offer new resources on school climate, discipline

(District of Columbia) In an effort to tamp down on excessive disciplinary actions meted out in K-12 schools, federal officials released earlier this month comprehensive guidance drawing from expertise of both the education community and law enforcement.

The package includes legal advice from civil rights experts on how schools can meet their legal obligations under federal law to administer student discipline without discriminating against students on the basis of race, color or national origin. Also provided is new research on best practices aimed at improving school climate and discipline.

A directory of federal resources has been indexed as well as access to an online catalogue of the operative laws and regulations in all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement. “This guidance will promote fair and effective disciplinary practices that will make schools safe, supportive and inclusive for all students. By ensuring federal civil rights protections, offering alternatives to exclusionary discipline and providing useful information to school resource officers, we can keep America’s young people safe and on the right path.”

The guidance comes as the number of students receiving out-of-school suspensions skyrocketed by 40 percent from 1973, when one in 13 high school students were suspended or expelled, to one in nine by 2009.

There’s also growing uneasiness that too many sanctions are being applied to minority groups. Black middle school students are suspended nearly four times more often than white, while Latino middle school students are suspended twice as often, according to a recent study from the Vera Institute.

Federal officials noted they are especially concerned about the spike in disciplinary actions taken against students with disabilities. Indeed, high school students with disabilities of any sort are nearly three times more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension compared to high school students without disabilities, according to Vera.

Federal officials described the initiative as an effort to support school discipline practices that “foster safe, inclusive and positive learning environments while keeping students in school.”

“Effective teaching and learning cannot take place unless students feel safe at school,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement. “Positive discipline policies can help create safer learning environments without relying heavily on suspensions and expulsions. Schools also must understand their civil rights obligations and avoid unfair disciplinary practices.”

The package is a rare collaboration between the two federal agencies but necessary given the overlap that school offenses create.

It is the responsibility of both the Attorney General and the Secretary of Education to enforce Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or national origin in public schools, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin by schools, law enforcement agencies, and other recipients of federal financial assistance.

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