Full Court Press
 Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families,
Children and the Courts (CFCC)

  Issue 8
Jan. 23, 2014
In This Issue
About Full Court Press

CFCC's Full Court Press focuses
on research, policies and practices affecting families and children who come into contact with the family
and juvenile justice systems.

Listen to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan's overview of new school discipline guidelines, presented at
Baltimore's Frederick Douglass High School. 
Video courtesy of The Baltimore

Federal Officials Underscore Civil Rights Aspects of School Discipline


The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education this month released a school discipline guidance package that provides resources for creating safe and positive school climates while reducing student suspensions and expulsions.


Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan unveiled the recommendations on January 8 at Baltimore's Frederick Douglass High School. Both officials urged school personnel and policymakers to review their discipline guidelines and practices in light of the overuse of suspensions and expulsions. "Alarming numbers of young people are suspended; they are expelled or even arrested for relatively minor infractions," Attorney General Holder said.

"Dear Colleague" Letter: Students' Civil Rights and Futures Are Both At Stake
The guidance package contains five documents, two of which are key. A 32-page
Dear Colleague Letter addresses racial discrimination in school discipline practices. Nationwide data (see box below) and investigations indicate that there are significant civil rights violations. "In short, racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem," the departments concluded.

The letter also reinforces the connection between students' exclusion from school and involvement with the justice system. "The increasing use of disciplinary sanctions such as in-school and out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, or referrals to law enforcement authorities creates the potential for significant, negative educational and long-term outcomes, and can contribute to what has been termed the school-to-prison pipeline," according to the letter. 


The letter summarizes schools' obligations to avoid and redress racial discrimination in the administration of student discipline and recommends ways schools can re-examine policies and practices through a civil rights lens. "It's time for all stakeholders to approach student discipline from a holistic perspective that addresses the underlying issues," CFCC Director Barbara A. Babb said, noting that CFCC's Truancy Court Program tackles chronic absenteeism using this approach.
School discipline guidelines from Dept. of ED
Download Guiding Principles here. 
Three Guiding Principles 
The centerpiece of the guidance package is Guiding Principles: 
A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline, which encourages educators to redesign discipline policies and practices. The report says extensive research shows that safe and successful schools embrace three core principles:   
  • Create positive climates and focus on prevention,  
  • Develop clear, appropriate and consistent expectations and consequences to address disruptive student behaviors, and  
  • Ensure fairness, equity and continuous improvement by evaluating data.

The guide recommends specific actions that schools can take to implement the principles.


To view the documents mentioned plus a list of resources, an online tool  
to research school discipline policies in all 50 states, background on the  
Supportive School Discipline Initiative and an FAQ,  
visit  www.ed.gov/school-discipline or call 877-433-7827.   


African-American students without disabilities are  
more than three times as likely as their white peers without disabilities 
to be expelled or suspended.

Over 50% of students who were involved in school-related arrests  
or referred to law enforcement are Hispanic or African-American.

Students with disabilities are more frequently and
more harshly disciplined than students without disabilities.  

About CFCC

The Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts promotes policies and practices that unite families, communities and the justice system to improve the lives of children and families and the health of communities. CFCC advocates the use of therapeutic jurisprudence, the understanding that the legal system has an effect on behavior, emotions and mental health.

Barbara Babb is Associate Professor of Law, University of Baltimore School of Law, as well as Founder and Director of the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts.

CFCC Staff and Contributors: Gloria Danziger, Senior Fellow; Andrea Bento, Truancy Court Program Manager and School Liaison; Anthony "Bubba" Green, Truancy Court Program Mentor Coordinator; Catherine Jackson, Truancy Court Program Co-Manager; Katie Davis, Truancy Court Program Coordinator; Nancy Petersen, Outreach Coordinator; Elizabeth Mullen, Program Administrative Specialist; Christopher Gibson, Administrative Assistant
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