Communities Use Federal School Guidance as a Tool for Local Change


Across the country, members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) are using new Federal School Discipline Guidance in their campaigns to change local policy. From Georgia to New York to Dayton, OH, students, parents, educators and advocates are testifying before school boards and meeting with district officials to demand implementation of the federal guidance in order to reduce racial discrimination in school discipline and adopt positive approaches that protect students’ human rights to education and dignity.

The federal Guidance was released as part of the Supportive School Discipline Initiative (SSDI), first launched by the Departments of Education and Justice (ED/DOJ) in 2011 to address harsh, zero-tolerance school discipline policies that push young people out of school. Over the last three years, NESRI and other members of DSC, a coalition anchored by NESRI, have been advocating for ED/DOJ to release this Guidance to hold school districts accountable for these practices. The Guidance lays out legal direction for districts to address racial discrimination and provides recommendations for implementing positive approaches like social and emotional learning, restorative practices and positive behavior interventions and supports, proven to reduce conflict in schools and improve educational outcomes.

Since the release of the Guidance, DSC has held webinars for members on how to use the Guidance in their local work and met with ED/DOJ officials to learn more about plans for implementation and oversight. At the local level, DSC members have been sharing their guidance with school, district and state officials.

In January, DSC joined Legal Aid of North Carolina Advocates for Children’s Services, together with DSC members and allies in Wake County, NC, in filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice against law enforcement agencies and the school system alleging discrimination and unlawful criminalization caused by school policing practices. The federal guidance makes clear that school districts are responsible for the discriminatory actions of school-based law enforcement and security personnel.  In Wake County, for example, Black students represent 25% of the student population, but represent 74% of school-based delinquency complaints. DSC member Education Justice Alliance also created an assessment tool for Wake County and other districts to compare their current practices to the federal guidance.

In February, NESRI and members of the DSC-NY chapter met with the NYC Department of Education to discuss our 2014 recommendations for changes to the city-wide Discipline Code and to demonstrate how the new federal guidance supports those goals. DSC-NY’s recommendations include mandating the use of positive guidance interventions, like counseling, mediation and restorative practices, which are described as best practices in the federal guidance. DSC-NY is also calling for an end to suspensions for the minor misbehavior, “defying authority,” the second most common behavior for which New York City students are suspended.  The federal guidance points to the biased use of suspensions for vague and subjective behavior categories, like insubordination and defiance, as a major source of racial disparities in discipline.

Later this month, DSC members from 17 states and over 50 organizations will be in Washington, DC for our Annual Membership Meeting where we will meet with representatives of the federal government to continue advocating for stronger enforcement of the guidance.