For Immediate Release

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Condemns School Safety Commission Recommendation to Rescind School Discipline Guidance

WASHINGTON - Today, the Federal Commission on School Safety released a 177-page report recommending, among other things, that the Department of Education rescind Obama-era guidance designed to ensure safe and healthy school climates for all students.  The Commission, which is chaired by Secretary DeVos and includes representatives from the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, makes recommendations that make schools less safe for some of the country’s most marginalized students.  The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has challenged the discriminatory application of school discipline policies, condemns the misguided recommendation to rescind the school discipline guidance. 

“In no uncertain terms, we condemn the recommendations that would promote the criminalization of African American and other students of color, and turn the clock back on efforts to make schools safer for all students,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The report recommends that the Education Department resurrect stereotypes that paint Black and Brown students as more dangerous than their white peers. This will certainly lead to the exclusion of students of color from school and dismantle policies and practices that have proven integral for all students to be safe and successful in school. By rescinding the guidance, the Education Department would turn its back on its own data analysis and abandon its mission to enforce civil rights protections for all students.”

The 2014 guidance provided administrators, educators, and communities with specific information about evidence-based practices that promote positive behavior and reduce harsh and exclusionary school discipline practices. A rescission would have particularly negative effects on students of color and would signal a lack of commitment by the Department of Education to ensure that schools guarantee that students of color are not disproportionally disciplined in comparison to their white peers. This action would ultimately escalate the exclusion of students from classrooms, compromise school safety, and decrease learning.

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“The safety of students should be the Education Department’s first priority. While today’s report and its recommendations will not alter federal anti-discrimination laws, its recommendations sends the message that this administration is not committed to protecting students regardless of race, ethnicity, sex or disability,” said Brenda Shum, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The report invites schools to return to exclusionary school discipline practices that facilitate the suspension and expulsion of students of color at higher rates, causing lifelong harm and eroding safety and learning for all children.”

The Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CDRC) shows that students of color are disciplined more frequently than their similarly situated peers. For example, African-American students represented just 15% of students but 35% of students suspended at least once during the school year, 44% of students suspended more than once, and 36% of students expelled.  Educators and administrators have reported that the 2014 guidance supported their efforts to decrease discipline including its disproportionate impact on students of color.

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The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers' Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law.

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