Justice Department gives new guidance on school discipline

McClatchy Washington BureauJanuary 8, 2014 

The federal government today issued new guidelines on school discipline.

The guidelines are aimed at ending discrimination and the use of discipline that takes students out of school, breaking what’s called the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Each year, significant numbers of students miss class due to suspensions and expulsions – even for minor infractions of school rules – and students of color and with disabilities are disproportionately impacted. The guidance package provides resources for creating safe and positive school climates, which are essential for boosting student academic success and closing achievement gaps,” the Justice Department said in a news release.

"A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal's office, not in a police precinct," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "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 guidelines provide a list of best practices and show what schools must do to comply with civil rights laws. (Read them here.)

The American Civil Liberties Union said that they also provide guidance for the training and role of law enforcement or school resource officers in schools, so they are not involved in minor disciplinary matters.

"With the rise of law enforcement in our schools, the proliferation of zero-tolerance policies, and misuse of suspensions and expulsions, our nation’s school discipline policies are pushing children, most of whom are students of color and students with disabilities, out of school," said Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU senior legislative counsel. She said the new guidance was “a victory for all who care about creating environments where students can thrive."

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said the new policies will only succeed if schools get the support and funding they need.

“Instead of fixating on testing, we should be fixating on making schools safe, welcoming and respectful with meaningful professional development, community schools, real alternatives to suspension and restorative justice programs to empower students to resolve conflicts, and restored budget cuts that have left schools without resources to support students and families,” Weingarten said in a statement.

The teachers' union held a previously scheduled symposium on Wednesday. Its own discipline statement suggests such things as more training for staff and alternatives to suspension and expulsion.



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