By Maria Danilova
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is reviewing an Obama-era policy that tried to counter racial bias in school discipline and lessen penalties for student infractions. That’s putting a spotlight on what causes disparities in school discipline and how they can be fixed.
Under 2014 guidance, schools were told to review their data to see if penalties like suspension and expulsion were disproportionately affecting African-American students more than white students. They had to correct any disparities or face federal investigations and possible loss of federal funding.
The Obama-era guidance also urged educators to use positive behavior interventions such as counseling, when possible.
On Wednesday, DeVos met behind closed doors with educators who believe that rolling back the Obama rule will further entrench discrimination. Later in the day she planned to meet with opponents who say that softening discipline practices makes schools less safe and prevents effective learning.
Black students are more than three times more likely to be suspended from school and nearly twice as likely to be expelled than white peers, according to a 2016 federal study. Another government study released last month found that black children account for about 16 percent of students but 39 percent of students suspended from school.
But while there’s widespread agreement that disparities in discipline based on race and disability are a serious problem, there’s intense debate over what causes them and how to fix them.
Tynisha Jointer, behavioral health specialist for elementary schools in Chicago, said she told DeVos that positive reinforcement and counseling were more effective in improving students’ behavior and learning than suspension.
“Hands down, positive interventions work best,” Jointer told the AP in a phone interview.