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Equity & Diversity

State Attorneys General Tell Betsy DeVos: Keep Obama School Discipline Guidance

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 26, 2018 2 min read
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The Obama administration’s school discipline guidance helps protect students’ civil rights and addresses discriminatory practices, attorneys general for California, New York, and nine other states have told Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

In a Friday letter, the top law enforcement officials in 11 states urged DeVos not to rescind the guidance, which the U.S. Department of Education issued in 2014 and has proven to be one of the most controversial initiatives from Obama’s education policy team.

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 in one racial group. The guidance’s supporters say it’s essential by pointing to a Government Accountability Office report that black students are consistently disciplined at higher rates than students in other groups.

However, critics charge that the guidance puts an onerous and unfair burden on school leaders. They’ve also told DeVos that out-of-school factors impacting black students help explain why they’re 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., high school murdered 17 people on the campus. However, the Obama guidance was issued one year after a separate, controversial discipline initiative in the Parkland district that’s been hotly debated since the shooting.

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 11 attorneys general wrote. “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 a divided government like Illinois, Iowa, and Massachusetts.

  • Xavier Becerra, California Attorney General
  • Maura Healey, Massachusetts Attorney General
  • George Jepsen, Connecticut Attorney General
  • Gurbir S. Grewal, New Jersey Attorney General
  • Karl A. Racine, District of Columbia Attorney General
  • Barbara D. Underwood, New York Attorney General
  • Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General
  • Ellen F. Rosenblum, Oregon Attorney General
  • Tom Miller, Iowa Attorney General
  • Bob Ferguson, Washington Attorney General

Underwood highlighted the intent of the letter in a tweet the same day the letter was sent.

Less than two months ago, district and charter school leaders also asked DeVos to maintain the guidance, our colleague Evie Blad reported.

Read the letter from the attorneys general to DeVos below:

Photo: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)