On July 23, the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) released a report titled “Beyond Suspensions: Examining School Discipline Policies and Connections to the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students of Color with Disabilities.” The report notes that students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately subjected to suspension. Additionally, it notes that few empirical studies have evaluated the intersection of race and disability when it comes to discipline. Recommendations include continued guidance and enforcement from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and Congressional appropriations to help states and school districts train and support teachers and provide an adequate number of counselors and social workers in all schools.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has released a report on the continued use of corporal punishment in public schools. The report found that over half of schools that still use corporal punishment use it disproportionately on students with disabilities. Furthermore, the report found that black boys were almost twice as likely as white boys to be subject to corporal punishment and black girls were nearly three times as likely as white girls. Recommendations include banning corporal punishment in public schools and replacing it with evidence-based practices such as positive behavioral supports.
On April 18, the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) released a report titled “Protecting Students’ Civil Rights: The Federal Role in School Discipline.” The report discusses the negative impacts of zero-tolerance policies and discrimination in discipline. It notes guidance documents and regulations the Trump administration has targeted for elimination, such as the discipline guidance and the significant disproportionality rule. Additionally, the report discusses strategies to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline, such as teaching social-emotional skills.
On April 10, the Department of Education released a guidance document titled “Parent and Educator Guide to School Climate Resources.” This document provides strategies schools can use to improve school climate, reduce disciplinary issues, and make schools safer. The document recommends the use of school-wide positive behavior support programs.
On March 7, a Federal District Court judge overturned the Education Department’s (ED) decision to delay implementation of the 2016 significant disproportionality rule because it was “arbitrary and capricious” and the department “failed to provide a reasoned explanation” for its decision. The requirement for states and school districts to collect and report data on significant disproportionality, and take certain action if it is found, was added to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004. However, since that time, few states and school districts have reported any such significant disproportionality. In response to this problem, documented in a 2013 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Education issued regulations in 2016 to require a standard methodology to calculate significant disproportionality on the basis of race in identification, placement, and discipline. In 2018, the ED announced it would delay implementation of the rule. The Arc is pleased with the court ruling, which will ensure states and school districts move forward with implementation.
On December 21, 2018, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it had rescinded a package of guidance documents related to school discipline. The guidance detailed how, among other things, educators should prevent discipline from being administered in a way that disproportionately impacts minority students and those with disabilities. The announcement follows the December 18, 2018, release of the Federal Commission on School Safety report, which recommended rescission of the guidance. Education Secretary DeVos stated that the guidance put too much emphasis on statistics, adding that the rescission “makes it clear that discipline is a matter on which classroom teachers and local school leaders deserve and need autonomy.” The Arc strongly opposes the rescission of the package of documents that provide helpful guidance for schools, but emphasizes that the obligations for schools under existing civil rights and education laws remain in effect.
On June 29, the Department of Education announced that it would delay the regulations that were set to take effect this month to address racial/ethnic disproportionality in the identification, placement, and discipline of students served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The requirement for states and school districts to collect and report data on significant disproportionality, and take certain action if it is found, was added to the IDEA in 2004. However, since that time few states and school districts have reported any such significant disproportionality. In response to this problem, documented in a 2013 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Education issued regulations in 2016 to require a standard methodology to calculate significant disproportionality. In February, the Department solicited public comment on a proposed delay of these regulations as part of President Trump’ Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda.” Nearly 400 comments were submitted in response with the vast majority opposing the delay, including comments from The Arc and from school districts already in the implementation process. The Department cited concerns about creating incentives for quotas and the need to study the issue further as justification for postponement. The Arc is very disappointed with the Department’s action and remains very concerned about the disproportionate numbers of minority students being over identified with certain types of disabilities, placed in segregated settings, and suspended and/or expelled.
The Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative released several resources concerning discipline policies in public schools. The Collaborative produced the resources in response to its findings that students with disabilities are suspended at disproportionately high rates – almost twice as frequently as their peers who do not have disabilities and for longer periods of time. The intersection of race and disability results in even larger disparities. Twenty-five percent of African American students with disabilities were suspended in 2009-10 compared to nine percent of white students with disabilities. The Collaborative reported that during the 2009-10 school year, more than 3 million students in grades K-12 were suspended. The Collaborative is comprised of 26 nationally recognized experts from the social science, education, and legal fields.