AAPF is deeply disturbed by this week’s announcement that the Trump-Pence administration’s Federal Commission on School Safety has moved to rescind Obama-era guidance intended to prevent the discriminatory application of school discipline.
Racial disparity in the administration of school discipline is especially high for Black students, and particularly Black girls. As we note in our 2015 report, Black Girls Matter: pushed out, overpoliced and underprotected, national data show that Black girls are suspended six times as often as white girls and twice as often as white boys. Punitive school culture manifests in ways that have long-term negative effects on the well-being, academic achievement and life outcomes of Black girl students. Adolescent Black girls are at higher risk than girls from other racial backgrounds to experience exclusionary discipline for infractions that are subjective in their interpretation and could be handled through non-exclusionary means.
While schools are not legally permitted to discriminate against students based on race, sex, orientation, or ability, implicit stereotypes and biases often lead school authorities to administer discipline in discriminatory ways. Data show that this is especially common for students of color, queer students and students with disabilities.
Recognizing this problem, the Department of Justice in 2014 issued non-binding guidance to public schools on how to avoid perpetuating patterns of discriminatory discipline. The Trump administration argues that those policies have contributed to rising violence in public schools.
President Trump created the Federal Commission on School Safety after the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL last February. Though Black students weren’t responsible for any of the nation’s most high profile school shootings, the commission scrutinized the Obama administration’s school discipline policies while leaving gun laws unchecked. In effect, a commission established to end the scourge of school shootings is instead compromising the rights of minority students.
There is no evidence whatsoever that the long overdue efforts to reduce racial disparities in school discipline had anything to do with the tragedy in Parkland, FL. There is, on the other hand, evidence that racial disparities in discipline create tragedies every day, in the form of life-altering punishment unfairly distributed to students who are already socially marginalized.
We must reject the Federal Commission on School Safety’s attempt to wave the specter of mass shootings as a justification for endangering minority students. Join us in supporting the civil rights of all students, and standing against the vile use of fear to persecute the most vulnerable among us.
Contact the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to tell Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos that the Department of Education must maintain its support for diminishing exclusionary discipline practices and establishing restorative approaches to create safe and inclusive schools for all students.
Office for Civil Rights: 1-800-421-3481
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202