Pending Regs

GAO report: Schools punish black students more severely

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The government watchdog group that reports to Congress issued a report on Wednesday that found black students, boys and students with disabilities face more severe punishment than their peers.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that black students, in particular, were overrepresented among students who were suspended from school, received corporal punishment or had a school-related arrest.

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The GAO noted that the disparities were widespread and persisted regardless of the type of disciplinary action, the school’s economic standing or the type of public school attended.

In the first-of-its-kind report, which House Education and the Workforce Committee ranking member Bobby Scott (D-Va.) requested in 2016, the GAO said it analyzed Department of Education national civil rights data for the 2013–14 school year, the most recent available.

The report comes as Education Secretary Besty DeVos and the newly created Federal Commission on School Safety is considering rolling back Obama-era guidance that directed schools to use in- and out-of-school suspension as a punishment of last resort. 

The guidance, which the Obama administration said was aimed at preventing racially biased discipline, urged schools to ensure “school personnel understand that they, rather than school resource officers and other security or law enforcement personnel, are responsible for administering routine student discipline.”

President Trump created the School Safety Commission after the deadly shooting in February at a high school in Parkland, Fla. One of his directives for the commission was to review the 2014 guidance from the Education and Justice departments.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) argued in a letter to DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in early March the guidance may have contributed to the systematic failures that led to the Parkland shooting.

“This policy allowed the departments to initiate an investigation into schools and, if found to be noncompliant, could be at risk of losing federal funding,” he wrote.

“Further, the 2014 directive and subsequent guidance included onerous requirements and harsh penalties that arguably made it easier for schools to not report students to law enforcement than deal with the potential consequences.”

The GAO report, however, found that school suspensions dropped from the 2011–2012 to 2013–2014 school year before the guidance was issued.

As reported by The New York Times, the findings are likely to bolster arguments for preserving the 2014 guidance and undercut conservative claims that the guidance has resulted in federal overreach and a decline in school safety.

The Hill has reached out to the Department of Education for comment.

Tags Bobby Scott Donald Trump Education Jeff Sessions Marco Rubio School discipline

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