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October 19, 2017

Time to End Obama-Era DOE Suspension Discrimination

New study shows that poverty and disability are the biggest factors for student suspension, not race.

Recall in 2014 Barack Obama’s Education Department instituted a policy aimed at “equalizing” suspension rates between white and black students. As the Associated Press reported at the time, “Black children represent about 18 percent of children enrolled in preschool programs in school, but almost half of the students suspended more than once.” In instituting the new nationwide policy Obama’s DOE argued that it was needed in order to “dismantle what is commonly named the ‘school-to-prison pipeline.’” In fact, the policy was race-based at its heart, with the DOE communicating that it would interpret the “disparate impact” of disciplinary suspensions by race as discriminatory even if there was no evidence supporting such a conclusion.

A 2015 poll showed that 59% of teachers were opposed to the new policy guidelines. (We’re guessing the other 41% were 10% true believers and 31% too afraid to speak up.) And the reason was obvious, as one teacher explained, “There’s nothing going to happen, and the kids know it. It’s hard to keep order in a classroom when the kids know there is no consequence to misbehavior.” As any teacher knows, it’s not a student’s race that gets them in trouble, rather it’s their misbehavior.

Now a study of the policy’s impact on the state of Wisconsin has recently been released. The study reveals that overall school suspension rates have declined, but the highest percentage of suspension rate decline by race was, interestingly, among white children. The study also found that the factors of poverty and disability had the greatest impact on suspension rates, not racial background.

Will Flanders, the study’s author, stated, “I think what we see is that the factors that are impacting suspension rates differ at the district level. We see some districts where maybe there is a racial factor. We see other districts where poverty and disability seem to be the driver.” Flanders argued that the Obama-era policy should be rescinded, saying, “We really shouldn’t be instituting a national policy that we need to be focused on disparate impact, that we should be reducing suspension. What instead we should do is encourage the ‘dear colleague’ [Obama policy] letter to be reversed, and to restore to the school districts themselves, and to the states, the power in determining what policies work best for their school district.” Imagine that.

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