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Feds' New School-Discipline Guidelines Aim to Keep Kids in Classroom

Recommendations seek to curb racial prejudice and stop excessive discipline for minor offenses.

Patch File Photo
Patch File Photo

New federal guidelines aimed at reducing school suspensions for minor offenses that disproportionately affect minorities were unveiled last week by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder.

According to the Washington Post, Duncan told a crowd at Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass High School that racial discrimination in school discipline is “a real problem today — it’s not just an issue from 30 or 40 or 50 years ago.”

Duncan, in a press release on the U.S. Department of Education website, said the new guidelines would help states, districts and schools enhance the climate for learning.

"Effective teaching and learning cannot take place unless students feel safe at school,"U.S. Duncan said. "Positive discipline policies can help create safer learning environments without relying heavily on suspensions and expulsions. Schools also must understand their civil rights obligations and avoid unfair disciplinary practices. We need to keep students in class where they can learn. These resources are a step in the right direction.”

Tough discipline policies lead schools to expel or suspend about 2 million students a year, Duncan and Holder said. Up to 95 percent of out-of-school suspensions nationally are for nonviolent offenses such as disrupting class, disrespect, tardiness and dress-code violations. Taking a student out of the classroom should be a “last resort,” Duncan said.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy supports the new guidelines.

"This is a big step toward solving a big problem," Murphy said in a release. "Exclusionary discipline like suspensions and expulsions rarely works — in fact, it often makes schools less safe and puts kids in a downward spiral that many times ends in the criminal justice system."

Many educators and advocates applauded the new guidelines.

“This is historic,” said Judith Browne Dianis, codirector of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization, told the Washington Post. “Disparities in school discipline have been documented since the 1970s, and we’ve never been able to get the federal government to step in and help stop it.”

What do you think about the new school-discipline guidelines? Is this a good move or a misguided one?

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