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August 2, 2021

Education Law Center is calling on the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to strengthen and reissue its prior guidance on school discipline. The guidance was issued in 2014 under the Obama Administration and rescinded in 2018 by then Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. In comments, ELC is urging a renewed focus on addressing the link between academic failure and exclusionary discipline that contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Specifically, ELC is requesting that the new guidance not only require schools to use restorative justice programs and system-wide positive behavioral supports, but also address a student’s unmet academic needs that could be manifesting as behavioral misconduct and leading to exclusionary discipline.

The Department solicited comments from stakeholders around the country. ELC’s comments were informed by research studies, as well as by the work of ELC’s Skadden Fellow, Ruby Kish, whose project provides educational advocacy to justice-involved youth in Essex County. Through this work, and her interviews with over 70 families, Ms. Kish has documented firsthand how the intersection of unmet academic needs, school failure and exclusionary discipline results in justice-involvement, particularly for youth with disabilities.

“The interviews confirm what we know from the research: students with disabilities are overrepresented in the justice system, and the majority of these students have experienced both a high rate of suspension and some form of academic struggle,” said Ms. Kish. “Seventy-three percent of the youth in my work have diagnosed or suspected disabilities, and their academic careers have largely been marked by low reading levels and countless suspensions.”

In addition to writing comments supporting non-discriminatory discipline guidance, ELC signed on to comments prepared by two national networks – the National Coalition on School Diversity (NCSD) and the Education Civil Rights Alliance (ECRA). The NCSD comments recommended greater use of restorative and transformative justice, increased transparency on school policing, and better enforcement of accurate civil rights data collection, while the ECRA comments condemned continued federal funding of the “threat assessment” approach to identifying youth that may be at risk of engaging in violent acts in school.

“The overriding goal endorsed by ELC throughout the comments submitted is the implementation of evidenced-based approaches to provide support for students experiencing behavioral challenges and to improve their educational outcomes,” said Ms. Kish.


Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24