Education Opinion

‘Disparate Impact’ in Discipline

By Walt Gardner — September 20, 2017 1 min read
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Ever since the Department of Education sent a “Dear Colleague” letter in 2014 to school districts warning them that discipline policies resulting in disproportionate effects on students of any race would result in a civil-rights investigation, school officials have been intimidated (“Another Obama Policy Betsy DeVos Should Throw Out,” The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 13). They have become extremely reluctant to enforce any policy, no matter how fairly it has been designed and implemented. The unintended consequence is that students of all races have expressed fear about their safety.

The sad irony is that black and Hispanic students who are supposed to be the primary beneficiaries have not been helped. That’s because disruptive students of any race are not selective whom they target. The assertion that disparate impact is the result of racism does not stand up to scrutiny. Disparities are seen even in schools with black and Hispanic administrators and teachers. If racism was indeed the reason, rather than misbehavior, why does the disparity persist? I doubt that black and Hispanic educators are prejudiced against their own. I believe it is the behavior of students that accounts for the disparities.

Suspending and expelling students should be a last resort. But both serve a purpose because there are students of all races who are incorrigible. During my 28-year career teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I had my share. All it took was one such student of any race to hold others hostage. The time and effort involved dealing with them unavoidably took away from the educational process. I realize that students act out for many different reasons. But sometimes there is nothing that can be done to correct their behavior. It’s then that they must be removed from the class so that others can continue with their education. Race should not be a factor in the debate.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.