November 22, 2017

Secretary DeVos, stand up for school discipline guidance

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance to assist public schools with administering student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

Now, the Department of Education is tapping two opponents of the Obama-era guidance for key posts, and department officials met recently with staunch critics of the 2014 guidance. We face the real possibility that Secretary Betsy DeVos will rescind the guidance. This would be a major setback for teachers who are committed to ending racial and gender discipline disparities in our schools through evidence-based strategies aimed at addressing the root causes of student misbehavior. 

To this end, E4E and educators nationwide are calling on the U.S. Department of Education to keep the school discipline guidance. To sign the letter, enter your name below.

November 22, 2017

The Honorable Betsy DeVos
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave, SW
Washington D.C. 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos,
CC: Jason Botel, Candice Jackson

Dear Secretary DeVos,

On November 17, 2017, you met with a handful of teachers and organizations to hear their experiences with the previous administration’s guidance on reducing discipline disparities in our schools. In that same spirit, we urge you now to consider the voices of thousands of educators from across the country who are committed to ending racial and gender discipline disparities in our schools through evidence-based strategies aimed at addressing the root causes of student misbehavior. Many of our recommendations echo the 2014 “Dear Colleague” federal guidance protecting the civil rights of students of color, and we strongly advocate for its preservation.

Founded by public school teachers, Educators for Excellence (E4E) is a growing movement of over 25,000 educators, united around a common set of principles for improving student learning and elevating the teaching profession. We work to identify issues that impact our schools, create solutions to these challenges, and advocate for policies and programs that give all students access to a quality education.

Students should be in class, not handcuffs. As teachers, we recognize that a negative school climate, overly punitive discipline policies, and a lack of focus on supporting the whole child can keep our students from reaching their full potential. Student data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (link is external) also tells us that suspended, arrested, or expelled students are disproportionately students of color. We have seen it firsthand how exclusionary practices negatively impact students’ trajectories. Once suspended or expelled, students are more likely to drop out of school and be incarcerated.

Our teachers have spoken out clearly on school climate and discipline disparities. These issues are critical to our students and our profession.

  • In Minnesota, teachers wrote a school-based action guide, Ending Racial Discipline Disparities, to help educators end racial discipline disparities through evidence-backed strategies.
  • In Los Angeles, educators advocated for ways to implement the 2013 School Climate Bill of Rights, with the goal of reducing racial discipline disparities across LAUSD in The Equity Movement.
  • In Chicago, teachers recognized the need to support the social-emotional well-being of students across the district in their paper Sounding the Alarm: Building the Climate & Culture Our Students Need.
  • In Boston, educators recognized how trauma can affect student behavior in school in their paper, Schools That Heal, and recommended improving professional development for trauma-informed teaching.
  • In New York, teachers published Climate Change, in which they recommending more student centered, non-punitive discipline systems, and have successfully advocated for expanding restorative justice programs since its publishing.
  • In Connecticut, educators from New Haven advocated for district-wide supports for improving school climate and student support in their paper It Takes A Village.

Federal guidance remains essential for holding our school systems accountable at the local level and for keeping this issue at the center of the national dialogue so that we can bring an end to racial and discipline disparities and support all students to succeed in communities across our nation. To this end, E4E calls on the U.S. Department of Education to keep the school discipline guidance released by the Departments of Education and Justice in 2014. Our students deserve a Department of Education that will stand up for policies that improve their educational experience and lead to their long-term success.