I’ve just come across an absolutely stunning and horribly frightening story concerning a memo distributed jointly from the Departments of Justice and Education. The memo was released to public school districts across the county with the aim of getting them to change their “zero tolerance” policies regarding offenses committed by students during school hours because they say the zero tolerance approach discriminates against minority students.
Over the last several years school districts around the nation have begun adopting zero tolerance approaches to certain offenses, primarily those relating to violence and threats of violence; this stems largely from the few school shootings we’ve witnessed in recent years. These policies have grown to include such things as disrespecting teachers, using a cell phone in class or excessive tardiness. Many schools have begun handing out automatic detention, suspensions and expulsions relative to the offense committed (i.e. using a cell phone results in detention and threatening violence results in expulsion). Many parents and teachers believe these policies are the only way to deal with young children who are becoming increasingly distracted and increasingly unruly. US Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan believe these policies are racist and discriminatory.
According to the memo released by DoJ and DoE, schools are being urged ease up on zero tolerance punishments because they believe this form of “policing” disproportionately affects minority students. In other words Holder and Duncan believe minority students are getting in trouble at school more often than other students and the punishments being handed down are negatively affecting them because they are missing valuable classroom time. School districts and teachers say the rules are applied evenly to all students. Even the Holder/Duncan memo says
“Schools … violate Federal law when they evenhandedly implement facially neutral policies and practices that, although not adopted with the intent to discriminate, nonetheless have an unjustified effect of discriminating against students on the basis of race.”
They are admitting in their own memo that the rules are being applied evenly and indiscriminately yet they are still alleging that these policies are discriminating against minority students.
So how exactly does a policy that is applied “evenhandedly” and is “facially neutral” become discriminatory? Teachers can’t help which students are going to be problem students and which are not, that comes from parenting. If the rules are resulting in more green students getting suspended and expelled than are purple students it’s not because the system is flawed but because green students are causing more problems than purple students. That is not discrimination, that is reality.
Teachers and education professionals are already up in arms over this assertion from Holder and Duncan that discrimination is occurring. Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, Andrew Coulson told Fox News “They are right that expelling a student would hinder their academic performance. But it is outweighed by keeping them in the school, as it affects the performance of other students.” Teachers generally seem to be of the same opinion. Keeping problem students in the classroom rather than sending them home or to detention negatively impacts the learning experience of other students, regardless of what color they are. If a student misbehaves they feel they need to have the ability to punish that student in order to preserve order in the classroom.
The frightening part here is that this memo seems to imply that schools should be accounting for race when handing out punishments. Almost as though they are advocating for some sort of racial quota dictating how many students of each race are allowed to be punished in a given time frame. Perhaps they feel some sort of racial buddy system should be enacted; if a student of one race gets suspended the school should also suspend a student of another race just to keep things even. Disgusting. In a system that is already operating in a state of racial neutrality Holder and Duncan seem to want to introduce race as a factor. Which is more fair? A system that applies the rules evenly to everyone or a system that applies the rules to select individuals based on their skin color?
photo credit: Thomas Hawk