In recent years, many school districts across the country have begun to adopt strict zero-tolerance discipline policies that impose increasingly harsher punishments for seemingly minor infractions. These disciplinary measures – in-school or out-of-school suspensions, alternative school placements, expulsions, and referrals to police departments and juvenile authorities – disrupt a student’s education and diminish their chances for success.
For too many students, these school-imposed sanctions lead to the criminal justice system, a pathway commonly referred to as the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Regrettably, studies have shown that children of color are disproportionately affected by zero-tolerance policies, a trend that increases already significant disparities.
To examine this issue and discuss strategies for addressing it, on Sept. 27 – Sept. 28, 2010, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office jointly hosted a conference entitled, “Civil Rights and School Discipline: Addressing Disparities to Ensure Educational Opportunity.” Academic and policy leaders, lawyers and law enforcement officers, investigators and educators, advocates and researchers discussed and developed strategies to ensure that all children can access a pathway to success, not to prison.
During the conference, Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez discussed this pervasive problem, the need for collaboration to tackle it and the administration’s commitment to addressing it:
Attorney General Holder stated:
Never before have our two agencies come together in this way – or brought together such a large and diverse group of partners – to discuss the best ways to ensure that civil rights and educational opportunities are protected for every student, at every level, and in every community…But it is just the beginning of what I know – and I pledge – will be an ongoing conversation about how we can better understand the causes, and most effectively remedy the consequences, of disparities in student discipline. I want to assure all of you that for me, for Secretary Duncan, for the agencies we lead, and for the administration – this work is a top priority.
Assistant Attorney General Perez continued:
Education should offer a lifeline to those students for whom a successful future is not predetermined. Particularly for those students in poor and historically disadvantaged communities, education should be the key that opens the door to a better future. .. And this is why we are here today – no single lawsuit or action or expert or agency can break down the School-to-Prison pipeline alone.
For more information on the conference, read AAG Perez' full remarks.