Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline, the chairman of the House Education Committee, argues that local educators, not the federal government, are best equipped to solve the problem of racial disparities in school discipline.
The federal Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights released a report last week that shows that black students are suspended and expelled at a rate that’s three times higher than their white peers.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder have urged educators across the country to move away from practices that suspend students for minor infractions and disproportionately affect minority students.
Looking to crack down on disparities in school punishment, the Obama administration released national guidelines this year that encourage districts to reconsider “zero-tolerance” discipline policies that federal officials said have led to high suspension and expulsion rates, especially among minority students.
In a February letter to Duncan and Holder, Kline agreed that “opposing discrimination is a shared goal,” but argued that the federal guidelines “may have a chilling effect” on teachers and school leaders already working to address the issue.
Kline led the letter, which three other Republican committee members signed. The lawmakers said the Obama administration guidelines contain practical recommendations, but “ultimately, we fear the departments’ guidance could limit educators’ ability to enforce appropriate discipline policies needed to promote a safe learning environment for students,” they wrote.
Kline’s staff did not respond to requests for comment on last week’s Education Department report on racial disparities.
While unveiling the federal guidelines in January, Duncan said the discipline disparity “is not caused by differences in children” but rather by “differences in training … and discipline policies.”