Three students stabbed in one week. That’s how 2018 began for New Rochelle High School in Westchester, New York. These school stabbings came just months after the highly publicized, fatal stabbing of a student at Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx.
As Americans try to understand the increase of violence in their public schools, the Obama administration’s 2014 school discipline reforms have received a lot of attention. The policy, written by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, took the form of a discipline guidance letter. It warned school districts that if their disciplinary procedures showed a disparate impact on students based on race, then the federal government could investigate them for civil rights violations. It also encouraged districts to use alternative discipline programs and classroom management practices in place of traditional discipline policies.
Although the guidance never became a formal regulation, schools districts across America began to implementcontroversial reforms in an effort to reduce their rates of out-of-school suspensions.
The letter had good intentions. As a former high school teacher in the Fairfax Public Schools, I don’t favor out-of-school suspensions for low-level, first offenses; most of the teachers I know don’t either. Disparities between the out-of-school suspensions of white students and students of color are well-documented, and teachers are acutely aware of the pipeline that runs from out-of-school suspensions to prison.
However, teachers also don’t want their hands tied.
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