TRENTON – New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has urged the Trump Administration to preserve existing federal guidance on school discipline that discourages the use of expulsion, suspension and other “exclusionary” forms of discipline, because those disciplinary measures are disproportionately imposed on children of color and lead to poor educational outcomes for all children. The Administration has threatened to repeal the four-year-old guidance.
In a letter sent Friday and addressed jointly to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Attorney General Grewal and 10 other participating Attorneys General say they “strongly oppose” any effort to rescind or weaken the federal School Discipline Guidance Package issued in 2014, because it benefits both students and educators.
Specifically, the multi-state letter notes, the School Discipline Guidance Package calls for avoidance where possible of “school exclusion” as a means of discipline, and advocates instead for application of such alternatives as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Social-Emotional Learning.
The letter explains that multiple sources – including a report issued earlier this year by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) – have found that suspensions and other exclusionary forms of discipline contribute to such harms as repeated grade levels, increased likelihood of juvenile delinquency, delayed graduations and students dropping out of school altogether. Students who dropped out of high school due to suspensions would cost the state of California alone about $2.7 billion, including lost wages and tax revenues, increased crime, and higher welfare and health costs.
The letter describes as “truly shocking” a statistic cited in the GAO report that, with regard to suspensions, African-American students are overrepresented by “about 23 percentage points.”
Another key finding of the GAO report, the letter points out, is that implicit bias on the part of school officials may contribute to disparity in the imposition of school discipline.
“The 2014 Guidance addressed important issues, including implicit bias and disparate treatment in the administering of school discipline,” said Attorney General Grewal. “To rescind the Guidance now would be counter-productive and do real harm to our students, our schools and our State.”
“When inequality exists in the classroom, people look to our leaders for direction,” said Lamont O. Repollet, New Jersey Commissioner of Education. “That's why this guidance was created. Its elimination would signal the U.S. Department of Education is shirking its duty to provide a leadership role – and it would send the wrong message to the very children that the guidelines were designed to protect.”
Today’s multi-state letter asserts that it is “not surprising that numerous civil rights organizations – including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, ACLU, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP, Disability Rights California and almost 150 additional groups – have expressed their opposition” to DOE’s threatened action.
The letter goes on to remind Secretary DeVos and Attorney General Sessions that both of their agencies have a responsibility under the law to safeguard the rights of students, and calls on them to keep the four-year-old federal guidance on school discipline in place.
“To do otherwise would be an abdication of your agencies’ critical role, as established by Congress, to protect students’ civil rights,” the letter concludes.
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