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Officials call for schools to halt disproportionate discipline among student groups



BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey this week joined a coalition of 23 attorneys general in calling on U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to reinstate a 2014 guidance package designed to have public elementary and secondary schools meet their obligations under federal law to administer student discipline – including suspensions and expulsions – equitably.

“My office is committed to ensuring that all students can access their education in an environment that is free from discrimination,” AG Healey said. “Discipline measures can have lifelong consequences for young people, so it is particularly important that, when used, they do not fall disproportionately on some students, including students of color and students with disabilities. We are calling for this guidance to be immediately reissued to ensure all our students have the best opportunity for success.”

In the letter, the coalition contends that exclusionary discipline remains prevalent across the country and continues to disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities. The coalition also notes that more recent data shows disproportionate rates of discipline for LGBTQ students. The letter specifically calls for the reinstatement of guidance issued by the Obama Administration in 2014 – and later revoked by the Trump Administration in 2018 – that outlined that federal law prohibits school discipline that intentionally discriminates or results in a disparate impact based on a student’s race, color or national origin, and to expand the package to address discrimination in school discipline based also on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

The letter also quantifies what the group believes is a lifelong impact these discriminatory practices can have on students, including contributing to an increased rate of incarceration—often referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Statistics show that students who receive more frequent discipline, including suspensions, are more likely to serve jail or prison time.

According to the letter, 2015-2016 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found that:

Black male students represented eight percent of enrolled students yet accounted for 25 percent of students who received an out-of-school suspension;

Black female students represented eight percent of students enrolled and 14 percent of out-of-school suspensions; and

Expulsion rates for all Black students accounted for 33 percent of all expulsions despite accounting for a total of 16 percent of students enrolled.

According to the letter, data shows that these disparities are based solely on a student’s race and that students of color receive substantially more school discipline and more serious punishments than their white peers receive for similar offenses.

Additionally, the National Bureau of Economic Research recently found that attending a school with an above average use of suspension increases a student’s future chances of being incarcerated by 17 percent. For students of color, the chance of incarceration increases by an additional 3.1 percent.

The letter points out that Secretary Cardona recently stated that “building educational environments free from discrimination where our nation’s students can grow and thrive is a top priority of the Biden-Harris Administration” and argues that reissuing and expanding the guidance is directly in line with that priority.

Joining AG Healey in sending the comment letter are the attorneys general of Michigan, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

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