Obama Administration Targets School ‘Zero Tolerance’ Polices – Mostly Because They’re Racist, Not Because They’re Stupid and Terrible

And then they were all suspended for hugging.Yesterday the Departments of
Justice and Education released what they are referring to as a
discipline guidance package
” that the media is
as an effort to clamp down on overzealous school
“zero tolerance” punishment policies. While it’s true this
“package” discusses how zero tolerance policies are bad policy, a
lot this guidance is all about making sure school discipline isn’t
being disproportionately applied based on race. From the Department
of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter:

Although African-American students represent 15% of students in
the CRDC, they make up 35% of students suspended once, 44% of those
suspended more than once, and 36% of students expelled. Further,
over 50% of students who were involved in school-related arrests or
referred to law enforcement are Hispanic or African-American.

The Departments recognize that disparities in student discipline
rates in a school or district may be caused by a range of factors.
However, research suggests that the substantial racial disparities
of the kind reflected in the CRDC data are not explained by more
frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color. …
Indeed, the Department’s investigations …have revealed racial
discrimination in the administration of student discipline. For
example, in our investigations we have found cases where
African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more
frequently because of their race than similarly situated white

So a significant amount of this documentation is about making
sure school discipline decisions are not discriminatory. There are
even flow charts for those educational professionals who need a
more visual guide to understanding that giving a minority student
harsher discipline than a white student for the same infraction is
racist. You can read the letter

Part of the reason for the focus on race (besides the
statistical evidence) is because it’s an area where the federal
government does have the authority to intervene in public school
operations. These guides are essentially a diplomatic way of
saying, “Do this, or face
federal sanctions

The Department of Education does also delve into the issue of
overdiscipline as well, noting, “One study found that 95 percent of
out-of-school suspensions were for nonviolent, minor disruptions
such as tardiness or disrespect.” Secretary of Education Arne
Duncan goes on to note that students tossed out of school “may be
unsupervised during daytime hours and cannot benefit from great
teaching, positive peer interactions, and adult mentorship offered
in class and in school.” Well, he seems to be making a lot of
assumptions about the kind of good teaching and mentorship a
student may get from adults in a school that’s quick to suspend
kids for minor infractions.

The Department of Education’s “guiding principles” for school
discipline may be read
(pdf). Sorry to be negative, but perhaps put any hopes to
rest that much will come from the Department’s recommendations.
This document could have been written by anybody with half a brain,
other than the parts that are written entirely in educational
bureaucratic jargon, possibly by a computer program (“Engage in
deliberate efforts to create positive school climates” and “Promote
social and emotional learning to complement academic skills and
encourage positive behavior”). There probably is very little in
this guide that school officials won’t already claim that they’re
doing. It is good that they’re discouraging schools from referring
non-criminal disciplinary issues to law enforcement, something

Los Angeles schools
are now starting to turn away from. But
ultimately, this looks like a bunch of guidelines that will lead to
the formation of school committees (funded with federal grants,
perhaps?) that put more rules into place that will be pointed to
the next time an official does something stupid like suspend a kid
for chewing his
Pop Tart
into the shape of a gun. Can anybody provide an
example of American jurisprudence where the institution of
additional rules resulted in less callously managed punishment? Why
should we expect any different from schools?

What really needs to happen for significant change is that
school districts need to be worried about the consequences to them
for poorly managed school discipline. That’s why the Department of
Justice’s emphasis on racial discrimination and the possibility of
sanctions or lawsuits is so prominent – the DOJ has a stick to beat
school districts with should they not comply. As for the “zero
tolerance” nonsense, giving parents more choice and power on where
their children attend school can serve as a useful pressure point
to encourage school administrators to put an end to their petty

from Hit & Run http://reason.com/blog/2014/01/09/obama-administration-targets-school-zero

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