DeVos Commission Recommends to Rescind Nondiscriminatory School Discipline Guidance

by Sarah McBride

The Trump-Pence administration’s Federal Commission on School Safety recommended to rescind vital nondiscriminatory school discipline guidance protecting students of color.

Today, HRC responded to the Trump-Pence administration’s Federal Commission on School Safety’s recommendation to rescind vital nondiscriminatory school discipline guidance protecting students of color. The commission is chaired by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

“From day one of her tenure, Betsy DeVos has sought to undermine the safety, dignity and civil rights of students of color, LGBTQ students, students with disabilities and survivors of sexual assault,” said David Stacy, HRC’s Director of Government Affairs. “While the revocation of this guidance would not change federal civil rights laws, this dangerous action would embolden discriminatory practices that push students of color, including LGBTQ students of color, out of the classroom. It is particularly outrageous to utilize a commission tasked with addressing gun violence in schools as a tool to undermine protections for students of color -- and HRC will continue to fight alongside civil rights and education advocates to stop this administration’s harmful agenda and protect the civil rights of all students.”

Schools are prohibited from discriminating against students based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion or disability. Despite these laws, discrimination is rampant in the administration of school discipline. Data collected by the Department of Education clearly shows that black students are suspended and expelled three times more often than white students, and students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended or expelled as students without disabilities.

In 2014, the Obama Administration’s Department of Education issued guidance reminding schools that they must administer discipline policies in a non-discriminatory manner, and it provided resources to help schools ensure they are providing an equal opportunity for all students.

In March, HRC, along with other leading national LGBTQ organizations, sent a letter to DeVos urging her to keep the 2014 guidance in place.

LGBTQ students also face disproportionate levels of unfairly harsh school discipline practices. According to a study from GLSEN, two thirds of LGBTQ students have experienced some form of discipline, compared to less than half of non-LGBTQ students. Students with multiple marginalized identities, including LGBTQ students of color and LGBTQ students with disabilities, are particularly at risk for being subject to exclusionary school discipline. An HRC survey of more than 12,000 LGBTQ youth found that Black and African American, Native American and Alaska Native, and multiracial respondents reported being expelled from school at more than twice the rate of white respondents. Black and African American respondents also reported receiving out-of-school suspensions at three times the rate of white respondents.

Although the guidance rescinded today does not explicitly talk about LGBTQ students, they are disproportionately impacted by these policies. The consequences of exclusionary school discipline can be devastating to young people, especially those who may already face marginalization in school, their communities and even at home. Students experiencing exclusionary school discipline lose critical instruction time and are often pushed out of school, which can lead to involvement with the juvenile justice system or homelessness.