The report, issued by the Government Accountability Office, is the first national governmental analysis of discipline policies since the Obama administration issued guidance in 2014 that urged schools to examine the disproportionate rates at which black students were being punished.
Critics of the Obama-era guidance have questioned whether students of color suffer from unfair treatment under school discipline policies. The G.A.O. found that not only have black students across the nation continued to bear the brunt of such policies, but the effects were also felt more widely than previously reported — including by black students in affluent schools.
Additionally, the agency found that school suspensions began to fall the year before the Obama administration urged schools to move away from the overuse of such measures, undermining claims that the guidance forced schools to cut suspensions. While the Obama administration’s aggressive civil rights investigations did reveal that black students were subjected to harsher treatment than their white peers for similar infractions, the G.A.O. found that it did not impose any new mandates on districts to reduce their suspension rates.
The findings are likely to bolster arguments for preserving the 2014 guidance and undercut conservative claims that the guidance has resulted in federal overreach and a decline in school safety.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos hosted groups of educators and advocates for and against the disciplinary guidance, the 12th set of round tables the department has held in the past year — and the first Ms. DeVos attended in person.
Nina Leuzzi, a prekindergarten teacher at a Boston charter school, said she kept her word to her class of 20, predominantly minority 4-year-olds, in making her case to the secretary for why the guidance should stay. When the children asked her why she was traveling to Washington, she told them it was to keep them safe.
“Rescinding this would send the message that there is no longer a concern about discrimination in our schools,” Ms. Leuzzi said.
Nicole Stewart, a former vice principal in San Diego, told Ms. DeVos that pressures to reduce suspensions had made schools dangerous. She said administrators did not expel a student with a knife at her school because he had a disability. Weeks later, he slit a student’s throat, she said.
“It is no wonder that our kids don’t think that rules and consequences apply to them,” Ms. Stewart said. “We are not modeling what consequences look like in the real world.”
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