School Climate & Safety

Attorney General Holder, Voice on Discipline, School Climate, to Resign

By Evie Blad — September 25, 2014 2 min read
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Attorney General Eric Holder will announce his resignation Thursday and plans to leave office as soon as a successor can be appointed, multiple media outlets report.

There is much to be said about Holder, the first African-American attorney general and one of the longest-serving members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet. But in the education world, he is perhaps best known for his efforts to address disproportionately high discipline rates for students from certain racial and ethnic groups. Alongside U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Holder also encouraged schools to step back from zero-tolerance policies that the two said could sometimes lead to heavy-handed punishments for minor rule violations.

“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,” Holder said upon the release of first-of-its-kind school discipline guidance in January.

Through the guidance, the Justice and Education departments informed schools that they could violate federal civil rights laws if their discipline policies unfairly target any racial, ethnic, or protected group through word or application. Schools are also responsible for examining any disparate discipline rates for students in those groups and examining whether their policies need to be adjusted, the guidance said.

The release was the result of Supportive School Discipline Initiative, a collaboration that the two federal agencies launched in 2011 to address school climate efforts, identify solutions, and highlight the need for change. Data from the Education Department’s 2011-12 civil rights data collection showed that while black students represented 16 percent of overall enrollment, they represented 33 percent of students suspended out of school, 34 percent of students who were expelled, 27 percent of those referred to law enforcement by schools, and 31 percent of those who were subject to school-related arrests.

Holder’s work faced criticism from some lawmakers who said discouraging disparate discipline rates would lead teachers not to discipline certain students for fear of skewing statistics.

Update: Duncan released the following statement on Holder:

It has been a true honor to work with Eric Holder, and I know he will remain an ally in the fight for justice and equal opportunity for every student in America. Eric understands—at a very deep, personal level—the costs to families, communities and our country when students do not have equal access to educational opportunities. I am grateful for Eric's partnership on so many issues, among them: addressing disparities in school discipline, enforcing civil rights laws in education, keeping schools and college campuses safe from violence, and ensuring value and service for students who borrow money for college. I am so grateful to Eric, Sharon and their family for their commitment to equality for all. I look forward to continuing this work with the next Attorney General."

Photo: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder discuss the importance of universal access to preschool and the need to reduce “unnecessary and unfair school discipline practices and other barriers to equity and opportunity at all levels of education” at J. Ormond Wilson Elementary School in Washington in March. --Cliff Owen/AP-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.