The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice have issued new guidelines to help public schools develop student discipline policies without discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin.
In releasing the document, “Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline,” federal officials note that data gathered by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights has demonstrated that students of certain racial or ethnic groups tend to be disciplined more than their peers.
“A significant number of students are removed from class each year—even for minor infractions of school rules—due to exclusionary discipline practices, which disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan says in a letter accompanying the guidelines.
The guide is based on three principles that education department officials identified after reviewing research and studying approaches at high-achieving schools.
“These schools take deliberate steps to create positive school climates and prevent student misbehavior; ensure that clear, appropriate, and consistent expectations and consequences are in place to prevent and address misbehavior; and cultivate an expectation of continuous improvement driven by data and analysis to ensure fairness and equity for all students,” the guide states.
The three guiding principles:
•Principle 1-Climate and prevention: Schools that foster positive school climates can help to engage all students in learning by preventing problem behaviors and intervening to support struggling and at-risk students.
“Research shows that creating a positive school climate can help districts, schools, and teachers meet key goals, including boosting student achievement and closing achievement gaps, increasing high school graduation rates, decreasing teacher turnover and increasing teacher satisfaction, and turning around low-performing schools,” the guide says.
•Principle 2-Expectations and consequences: Schools that have discipline policies or codes of conduct with clear, appropriate and consistently applied expectations and consequences will help students improve behavior, increase engagement and boost achievement.
“For example,” the guide says, “while schools should make clear that bullying is unacceptable, schools should also use the disciplinary process not just to hold those who bully accountable, but also to help those students learn from their behaviors, grow and succeed.”
•Principle 3-Equity and continuous improvement: Schools that build staff capacity and continuously evaluate the school’s discipline policies and practices are more likely to ensure fairness and equity and promote achievement for all students.
“Schools should understand their legal obligations under the federal civil rights laws and train school personnel not to discriminate in the administration of student discipline,” the guide says.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has campaigned to end zero-tolerance discipline policies in school districts, praises the guidelines as groundbreaking.
“With the rise of law enforcement in our schools, the proliferation of zero-tolerance policies, and misuse of suspensions and expulsions, our nation’s school discipline policies are pushing children, most of whom are students of color and students with disabilities, out of school,” says Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU senior legislative counsel. “Today, the federal government has issued groundbreaking guidance that will help all school districts end misguided, discriminatory school discipline policies. This guidance makes it crystal clear for schools what their obligations are under our civil rights laws and provides examples of best practices so that they can easily implement positive alternative practices. This is a victory for all who care about creating environments where students can thrive.”
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) also voiced strong support for the policies recommended in the new guide.