Feds criticize zero-tolerance policies in public schools

The administration issues guidelines suggesting officials use law enforcement only as a last resort.

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICEJanuary 9, 2014 

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday released a 35-page document that outlined approaches — including counseling for students, coaching for teachers and disciplinary officers, and sessions to teach social and emotional skills — that could reduce the time students spend out of school as punishment.

“The widespread use of suspensions and expulsions has tremendous costs,” Duncan wrote in a letter to school officials. “Students who are suspended or expelled from school may be unsupervised during daytime hours and cannot benefit from great teaching, positive peer interactions, and adult mentorship offered in class and in school.”

Data collected by the Education Department shows that minorities — particularly black boys and students with disabilities — face the harshest discipline in schools.

According to the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, African-Americans without disabilities are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended or expelled from school. And an analysis of the federal data by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that in 10 states, including California, Connecticut, Delaware and Illinois, more than a quarter of black students with disabilities were suspended in the 2009-10 school year.

The administration advised schools to focus on creating positive environments, setting clear expectations and consequences for students, and ensuring fairness and equity in disciplinary measures.

It also called for districts to collect data on school-based arrests, citations and searches, as well as suspensions and expulsions, and reminded schools of civil rights laws protecting students.

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