Federal Guidelines Offer Practical Steps to Improve School Discipline Policies

Back • January 22, 2014 • Uncategorized

Many in Connecticut have long known that exclusionary school discipline policies like suspensions and arrests are often counterproductive and often unfairly affect racial minorities.  Recently, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder introduced landmark policy guidelines on school discipline that offer concrete action steps schools should take, ranging from keeping police out of involvement with minor infractions to creating an overall positive climate throughout the school.

Included in the package of guidance are a “Dear Colleague” letter that details how schools can meet their obligations under federal law to administer school discipline without racial discrimination, a Guiding Principles document that includes resources for improving school climate, a Directory of Federal School Climate and Discipline Resources  and a compendium of state laws and regulations on school discipline.

We applaud this important step towards improving school climate and reducing racial disproportionality in school discipline. Connecticut has been working towards these goals for a number of years, and has seen a substantial decline in the number of student arrests, as our recent report, Arresting Development: Student Arrests in Connecticut, documented.

How is Connecticut working to reduce unnecessary student arrests and suspensions?

  • Memorandums of Agreement between Schools and Police: A police chief and superintendent of schools can sign a memorandum of agreement detailing guidelines for dealing with student behavior. After Manchester embraced the program, the arrest rate at its high school fell 78 percent.
  • Training: The state Office of Policy and Management offers one-day trainings to promote effective collaboration between police officers, school staff, and youth.  
  • The Judicial Branch is returning arrests they deem unnecessary back to schools for alternative handling. They returned 359 cases from May 2011 through July 2013, more than half because the offenses were deemed “normal adolescent behavior.”
  • The School-Based Diversion Initiative (SBDI) of the Child Health and Development Institute helps schools address mental and behavioral health needs of a student without a child entering the juvenile justice system. Arrests dropped 20 to 69 percent in participating schools.
  • The Center for Children’s Law and Policy and the Center for Children’s Advocacy are working together to provide intensive technical support to schools in Bridgeport and Hartford, where they have brought the arrest rate down substantially by analyzing data and identifying strategies for reducing racial and ethnic disparities.
  • And, here at Connecticut Voices for Children, we provide local and state data to policymakers and advocates about student arrests and suspensions, and work with communities across the state to understand the data and discuss solutions.

Despite the reduction in arrests, there is still work to be done. Too many student arrests are unnecessary, wide disparities in rates of arrest between white students and students of color still remain, and arrest rates vary widely among?  school districts and schools.

Following best practices outlined in the federal policy guidelines, the School-Police Collaboration Bill — expected to be introduced in the upcoming 2014 state legislative session requires memorandums of agreement be signed in districts with school police officers, and makes data on school discipline more clear and accessible. This proposal marks an important step forward in furthering Connecticut’s work in reducing unnecessary student arrests.