For years a body of troubling evidence has been building that reveals racially discriminatory practices in school disciplinary measures. Black and Latino children are more likely to be disciplined, be more severely disciplined, and are more frequently are suspended or expelled or sent to special alternative schools. "Zero-tolerance" policies that presume all explanations for infractions as small as being late to school are excuses and there’s no such thing as mitigating circumstances have been particularly hurtful to poor black and Latino students. Supporters of zero tolerance say the policies are designed to teach accountability and maintain order in some of the country’s most dangerous schools; critics say they push at-risk kids who need the most help and attention out of school and send a message that they’re not wanted. Simultaneously, schools have over the years more heavily relied on law enforcement and courts to deal with problem students, creating the so called "school-to-prison pipeline" that for many perpetuates into adulthood.
Now the civil rights arms of both the Departments of Education and Justice have jointly set guidelines for school discipline. These guidelines are meant to help schools avoid racially discriminatory disciplinary practices as outlined in the Civil Rights Data Collection, a survey of all public schools that’s been regularly conducted by the DoE since 1968. Among the discouraging findings the study outlines:
African-American students without disabilities are more than three times as likely as their white peers without disabilities to be expelled or suspended. Although African-American students represent 15% of students in the CRDC, they make up 35% of students suspended once, 44% of those suspended more than once, and 36% of students expelled. Further, over 50% of students who were involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement are Hispanic or African-American.
The study goes on to say that these findings aren’t explained by more frequent or serious infractions by minority students. The consequences for students are severe, leading to an array of negative outcomes from increased juvenile criminal justice involvement to drug use to lower academic achievement.