What a White House Endorsement Means for Ending Zero Tolerance Policy
The Obama administration issued a series of guidelines this Wednesday calling for school systems to relax their harsh disciplinary measures that often introduce the criminal justice system into the lives of students, effectively widening the school-to-prison pipeline. They noted how these policies come down disproportionately on black, hispanic, and other minority students.
In 2013, and in years gone by, we’ve seen egregious cases of school systems who, like many other government organizations, were all too eager to bring down the hammer on kids. Many of those cases we’ve written about here on Hooverlaw Memos, in our newsletter, or linked to through our social media pages. For instance, Durham Public Schools of North Carolina suspended 2,425 black students in the 2009-2010 school year, a whopping 14.1% of all black students. In the same year, only 3.3% of white students were suspended. Or take Florida’s Broward County Public Schools, whose nation-leading arrest numbers a few years ago consisted of mostly minorities. It wasn’t until 2011, when pressure from the N.A.A.C.P, a new superintendent, and the newly published downfalls of Zero Tolerance made the school system do some soul searching, before they prioritized keeping students in school as opposed to on the streets for minor offenses like marijuana possession.
To deliver the new guidelines, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan chose Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, where the State Board of Education has worked on reforming disciplinary regulations. Once a top offender of shoveling youth into the penal system through suspensions and expulsions, Baltimore City Public School System reduced the number of out-of-school suspensions from 26,300 in 2003 to under 9,000.
In the following paragraph, Kimberly Hefling of the Associated Press summarizes the guidelines:
Among the recommendations:
—Ensure that school personnel understand that they, not security or police officers, are responsible for administering routine student discipline.
—Draw clear distinctions about the responsibilities of school security personnel.
—Provide opportunities for school security officers to develop relationships with students and parents.
While it’s impossible for the federal government alone to catalyze change in every classroom across the country, the administration’s announcement to thwart modern day forces of civil inequality is a big step in the direction of ending Zero Tolerance Policy. On the question of discipline for the Baltimore Sun, Jane Sundius writes, “Current practices exclude children from school — and do so in a discriminatory way. We must embrace both the federal recommendations and the new Maryland school discipline regulations if we are to fulfill the civil rights of all Maryland’s children to fair treatment and to an education.”