New U.S. guidelines go against zero-tolerance school policies

Jan. 8, 2014 at 5:05 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- The Obama administration issued guidelines Wednesday that recommend public school officials use law enforcement only as a last resort for discipline.

The 35-page document, released by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder, suggests counseling of students and better training of teachers and disciplinary officers.

The guidelines can be seen as a response to a rise in zero-tolerance school policies that have disproportionately increased the number of arrests, suspensions and expulsions of minority students for minor and non-violent offenses, the New York Times said Wednesday.

Data collected by the Education Department indicate black males and students with disabilities face the harshest discipline in American schools, and as school districts have placed more police officers on school grounds, criminal charges against children have drastically increased, a trend that has alarmed civil rights groups and others concerned about school safety, the newspaper said.

A statement from the Education Department noted that "the use of suspensions has steadily climbed since the 1970s, and that most suspensions today are for minor and non-violent incidents of misbehavior. These misbehaviors could be better addressed through measures that keep kids in school than by turning our kids away from the classroom door."

Experts see the guidelines as a good first step, but warned changing entrenched attitudes would be difficult, the Times said.

Yale Law School clinical law professor James Forman Jr. commented, "We often talk about solving this problem as if it's an easy problem to solve. Actually creating a positive school climate, particularly in schools that are in communities that are themselves not calm and orderly, is hard work."

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