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Hands Off Guidance, Officials Say

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The Obama administration's school discipline guidance helps protect students' civil rights and addresses discriminatory practices, attorneys general from 11 states have told U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

In a letter, the top law-enforcement officials urged DeVos not to rescind the guidance, which the Department of Education issued in 2014.

DeVos has been weighing whether to rescind the guidance, which informed schools that they may be found in violation of federal civil rights laws if they enforce intentionally discriminatory rules or if their policies lead to disproportionately higher rates of discipline for students of color. Supporters of the guidance point to a Government Accountability Office report that black students are consistently disciplined at higher rates than students in other groups.

But critics charge that it puts an onerous and unfair burden on school leaders. They've also told DeVos that out-of-school factors help explain why black students are disciplined at disproportionate rates in school. The guidance has also been pulled into heated debates over school safety, especially after a former student at a Parkland, Fla., school was charged with killing 17.

However, the guidance was issued a year after a separate, controversial discipline initiative was launched in the Broward County district that's been hotly debated since the shooting. The suspected Parkland shooter was referred briefly to the district's discipline program, although some have argued he should have been arrested instead.

In their letter, the attorneys general tell DeVos that the guidance has helped her department fulfill its broad obligation to protect students from discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, national origin, and other factors.

"In short, exclusionary discipline harms students," the letter says. "Additionally, discrimination contributes to a racial gap in administration of this discipline. The guidance was issued to help schools address just these issues, and to rescind it now, despite continuing disparities and other challenges, would be counterproductive and harm our students, our schools, and our states."

The officials represent Democratic strongholds like California and New Jersey, as well as states with divided governments like Illinois, Iowa, and Massachusetts.

Vol. 38, Issue 03, Page 5

Published in Print: September 5, 2018, as Hands Off Guidance, Officials Say
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