Federal Government Gets Serious About Changing School Discipline

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The federal government has firmly laid out its position on school discipline this week. The Department of Education, together with the Department of Justice, released a letter jam-packed with guidance about how states and school districts can make sure that their discipline policies do not violate civil rights laws.  Concerned with the high numbers of black and Latino students who are suspended and expelled from school, the federal government encouraged more positive and supportive forms of discipline, instead of removal or exclusionary methods.

Youth Radio has been tracking this issue since last year. Check out an excerpt of our coverage below to find out how teachers, students and researchers are dealing with discipline reform. For the full piece, see here.


I remember the first student I ever suspended. He was 13 years old.

It started off as a minimal disruption. He was stealing pencils from other students at his table. That turned into breaking pencils. Then, stealing homework.

Determined not to let him derail the entire class, I changed his seat. I went over to him, and quietly said, “Can you tell me what’s up? I know you can behave better than this.” He swore at me in two languages.

I gave him a five-minute timeout in the hallway. He came back in and kept throwing and stealing. Finally, another student got so irritated that she threw a pencil back at him. And before I knew it, he had her in a headlock.

I didn’t think twice. I just made him disappear for a week. I wasn’t a seasoned teacher. I was a couple feet shorter than many of my students, and younger than many of their siblings.

It’s hard for any teacher to see the big picture in every disciplinary action we take, and how it can impact a student’s education. But it does.

I’ve been out of the classroom for three years now, and for the past year, I’ve been following teachers, students and school districts, trying to understand the latest research on school suspension and its effects down the line.


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