December 19, 2017
Racial Inequality in School Discipline Creating Unsafe Classrooms
The U.S. Department of Education issued a “guidance” to schools [referred to as a “Dear Colleague Letter,” January 2014] that threatened schools with loss of federal funding if students of color are disciplined more frequently than white students.
That directive was promoted as a way to “improve school climate.” Instead, it has created unsafe classrooms and has significantly increased physical danger to teachers trying to maintain order and protect the safety of their students.
The U.S. Civil Rights law, both Title IV and Title VI, explicitly prohibits schools from disciplining students differently based on race.
In 2014, however, the Obama administration turned that prohibition on its head by measuring “disparate impacts,” that is, disciplinary outcomes by race. As a result, students are being subjected to different standards of discipline —based on race. Schools got the message that they may face state and federal legal action of civil rights violations if disciplinary outcomes by race are not equitable. Often, discipline disparity is being couched in the language of diversity: it’s their “culture,” so we have to accept it.
Teachers don’t see discipline as about race. Teachers want guidelines that hold all students to the same standards because that’s good for kids. Teachers love kids and they are trying to do what’s best for them, nothing more.
Where teachers are unsafe, students are unsafe!
The directive was promoted as a way to “improve school climate.” Instead, it has created unsafe classrooms and has significantly increased physical danger to teachers trying to maintain order and protect the safety of their students.
Under the new leadership of Secretary Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Department of Education has added staff members who are critical of the guidance and who met with critics of the directive last month, raising speculation that the Obama era Dear Colleague Letter may be repealed.
In an attempt to counter a potential repeal, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights conducted a hearing on Friday, December 8, 2017, inviting numerous special interest groups to come forward to defend it. Among those who showed up to testify was Debbie York, a former Edina, MN school teacher who makes the case that the 2014 federal guidance has made the classroom unsafe for both teachers and students.
“School districts in MN have had an increase in violent behavior with harm to teachers and students because of fear of federal investigations and defunding. It seems the Dear Colleague Letter has harmed the very students it claims to represent.”
Debbie York testified to the Commission about Minnesota’s 2016 Minnesota Teacher Protection Statute which has put new classroom protections in place. That law instituted three new policies.
- School districts must report to the Commissioner all incidents of removals from the classroom, expulsions, and each physical assault of a district employee. Reports must include incident resolutions and other data. The Commissioner must include that data in the state’s annual school performance reports.
121A.53 Report to Commissioner of Education: Subdivision 1.Exclusions and expulsions; physical assaults.
- Teachers must be notified of a student’s history of violent behavior before that student is placed in a teacher’s classroom.
121A.64 Notification; Teachers’ Legitimate Educational Interest
- A teacher may remove students from the classroom for violent or disruptive behavior.
122A.42 General Control of Schools
This is an incredibly important protection for teachers and students. Watch it here.
Debbie York Testimony presented to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on December 8, 2017I am honored to be here from Minnesota as an Advocate for the MN Teacher Protection Statute.
I am speaking up for Teachers at Risk, because, if today, being a licensed professional in this country means sacrificing your own safety for the protection of your students and staff…our profession is in serious trouble.
I am just one Master Teacher left behind by the system. Teaching is my life. I decided to become involved to create a Teacher Protection Bill when my employer, my union and ultimately the legal system failed me and my students after I was assaulted as I intervened to protect children from further harm. That assault required three major surgeries, ending my 30 year career.
As we all know, teachers can’t teach and students cannot learn when they don’t feel safe. With the Dear Colleague Letter…too many schools are not safe.
Like me, I would guess most teachers across the country had not heard of the Dear Colleague Letter, but I can assure you, many have experienced the impact of the letter by the increase in abusive behavior.
The Dear Colleague letter runs in direct conflict with the Teacher Protection Statute. That legislation became law in May 2016 and only recently did I learn of this conflict.
No doubt the intent of the Dear Colleague Letter was to help all students…and to affirm and validate student diversity and special needs’ students. But in actuality, the letter has done the exact opposite.
School districts in MN have had an increase in violent behavior with harm to teachers and students because of fear of federal Investigations and defunding. It seems the Dear Colleague Letter has harmed the very students it claims to represent.
Debbie was featured in a KMSP news report from April 4, 2017
Are teachers being informed of this new Minnesota reporting requirement that protects both teachers and students?
Unfortunately, many teachers are not being informed that the school district has an obligation to notify them of a student’s history of violence and that they have a right to remove a student from the classroom for violent behavior.
If you are a teacher, read the law and be advised of your new protections—for your own safety and for the safety of your entire classroom!