On June 8, the Biden Department of Education published a request for information regarding the “nondiscriminatory administration of school discipline.” The background information provided by the Department of Education repeatedly references a “school to prison pipeline,” and asserts that students from minority ethnicities receive “substantially more school discipline than their white peers and receive harsher and longer punishments than their white peers receive for like offenses.”
Here’s what you need to know:
In 2014, the Obama Administration’s Department of Education sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to schools around the country that threatened to investigate schools if minority students faced exclusionary discipline at higher per capita rates than white students – and as a result, districts began to factor race into their discipline systems. As the Heritage Foundation’s Jonathan Butcher has noted, “Quota-based systems that discipline students differently depending on their race or ethnicity do not take into account critical factors that affect behavior and misbehavior. Examples include the concentration of minority students from single-parent families, as well as the concentration of dangerous neighborhoods near a particular school.”
This 2014 guidance didn’t result in better outcomes for students, teachers, or communities. As the American Enterprise Institute’s Max Eden discovered, “In Oklahoma City, 60 percent of teachers say offending behavior increased since the letter came out (11 percent say it decreased). In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 60 percent say they’ve experienced an increase in violence or threats and 41 percent say they don’t feel safe at work. In Portland, Oregon, 34 percent of teachers say their school is unsafe. In Jackson, Mississippi, 65 percent say their school “feels out of control” on a daily or weekly basis. In Denver, 32 percent of teachers say discipline issues have hurt their personal safety and 60 percent say it has hurt their mental health. In Syracuse, New York, 36 percent of teachers say they have been physically assaulted, 57 percent say they’ve been threatened, and 66 percent say they fear for their safety at school.”
In 2018, the Trump Administration’s Department of Education formed a Federal Commission on School Safety – and upon the recommendations of that commission, rescinded the previous administration’s guidance. The commission’s report asserted that “fearful of potential investigations, some school districts may have driven their discipline policies and practices more by numbers than by teacher input. School discipline is a complex issue that is affected by local circumstances. For example, there may be other reasons for disparities in behavior if students come from distressed communities and face significant trauma. Local solutions are best suited for dealing with the unique needs of local communities.”
The time is now to let the Biden Administration know that it is inappropriate to adjudicate school discipline through the lens of race, and that local control over these decisions is a better solution.
Please submit a comment through Parents Defending Education’s portal, which will guide you through the process and offer suggested text (of course, you can also write your own!)
Comments are due by JULY 23, 2021.