Gov't Offers New Guideline For Classroom Discipline To Address Racial Disparity

The Obama administration has issued new recommendations on classroom discipline that seek to end the apparent disparities in how students of different races are disciplined for breaking school rules.

Government civil rights data show that black students without disabilities are more than three times as likely as whites to be expelled or suspended. Critics say that creates a "school-to-prison" pipeline because many students enter the criminal justice system for violations.

Seattle Public Schools is under investigation by the Department of Education for its disciplinary practices. Pat Sander, who oversees the district's disciplinary policies, says the district's disproportionality rate isn't limited to just one race. 

“We have identified that we do have disparate disciplinary rates for African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Native-American [students] and students with disabilities. And it’s something that we’ve committed to addressing,” said Sander.

But the problem is statewide, according to Linda Mangel of ACLU of Washington, who says there’s probably not a district in the state that doesn’t have some racial disparity when it comes to how it’s disciplining kids.

“Far too many schools are just reflexively suspending or expelling kids for things that should just be a referral to the principal or the counselor,” Mangel said.

The recommendations released Wednesday encourage schools to ensure that all school personnel are trained in classroom management, conflict resolution and approaches to de-escalating classroom disruptions.

They also suggest that school employees understand they are responsible for administering routine student discipline instead of security or police officers and that clear distinctions be drawn about the responsibilities of school security personnel.