Landmark Federal School Discipline Guidance Released

On January 8th, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder released landmark Federal School Discipline Guidance detailing school districts’ civil rights obligations when it comes to school discipline. The Guidance provides legal direction for schools to address racial discrimination and tools to implement positive approaches that reduce suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to law enforcement and improve safety.

“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,” Holder said.
“We need to keep students in class where they can learn,” Duncan said. “These resources are a step in the right direction.”

The Guidance reaffirms Coleman’s youth and parent-led efforts to expand evidence-based, positive alternatives to ineffective and racially biased school removal practices in SFUSD. Many aspects of the federal guidelines mirror the strategies and objectives of the recently introduced Safe and Supportive Schools Resolution, co-developed by Coleman Advocates and Board of Ed Commissioner Matt Haney.

Some highlights from the Federal Guidance: 

• School communities need to be involved in changing school district policies and state laws.

• School districts and states need to make data about school discipline available to parents and community members.

• Schools should promote research-based alternatives to harsh discipline.

Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon said the guidance will help “make sure children are respected in school and their learning opportunities are protected.” She added that “schools need to engage the whole school community, including parents” to change school discipline practices. Lhamon also said that eliminating suspensions for willful defiance and other subjectively defined offenses could be a strong step to reducing discrimination.

The Federal Guidelines also include recommendations that reflect Coleman’s multi-year, collaborative efforts to move forward major revisions to the MOU between SFPD and SFUSD. The new MOU, which we expect to be officially approved in the next month, is designed to prevent unnecessary student referrals to the juvenile justice system and reduce police presence in schools. The Federal Guidelines include the following recommendations affirming the terms and intent of the new MOU:

• School officials, not school resource officers and school police officers, on campus should be the first responders on school discipline.

• School districts need to have clear rules about the duties of police and school resource officers.

The Department of Education also released a review of state laws and resources for school districts, parents, and community members working to change school discipline policies and state and local laws.

Click here to read the guidance letter and download resources for parents and school communities. 

Click here to check out the New York Times coverage about the Federal Guidance

These groundbreaking guidelines send a strong and crucial message that ending discriminatory school discipline practices should be a top education equity priority for cities, states, and the entire nation.  Positive school discipline practices must be central, integrated components of any and all systems change efforts aimed at closing the achievement gap and providing equal access to quality educational experiences for all students.

With the passage of the Safe and Supportive Schools Resolution, SFUSD has the opportunity to join the cutting edge of this national movement to abandon harsh school removal practices for proven, research-based alternatives that make schools safer, improve student achievement, increase graduation rates, and create a more positive school climate for teachers and students.

If you haven’t already, click here to sign on TODAY to support the Safe and Supportive Schools Resolution!

JAN 9, 2014