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Congress demands answers after Devos, Whitaker end civil rights guidance for school discipline

congressReps. A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) and Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) and Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) led a letter signed by more than 65 members of Congress to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind Obama-era guidance on school discipline.

The guidance was issued to assist schools with administering school discipline policies without discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin. The Trump Administration rescinded the guidance in December. In their letter, the members demand a written response from the two administration officials on steps they are taking to fully enforce civil rights laws, and how they are informing schools about their obligations under federal civil rights laws with respect to school discipline.

“Treating specific groups of children in a harmful and disproportionate way betrays our promise to students. Over the last two years, the Trump Administration has actively worked to weaken or eliminate critical civil rights protections for students. Rescinding the guidelines threatens the progress we have made to make our schools fairer and safer while reducing unfair discipline disparities that harm students,” said Congressman Donald McEachin. “We have seen reports of disproportionately high rates of discipline for students of color and students with disabilities in schools across my congressional district. Rescinding the guidance has a real impact in our communities, and I look forward to receiving the requested information from Secretary DeVos and Acting Attorney General Whitaker promptly.”

The Members of Congress wrote:

“This guidance was issued in 2014 to assist school districts, law enforcement agencies, and other recipients of federal financial assistance in understanding their obligations under Title VI and its implementing regulations and, in doing so, ensure students receive a safe, equitable, and high-quality education.

“Prompted by mounting evidence and research consensus that students of color face harsher discipline penalties for similarly-situated offenses than their white peers, the guidance you rescinded addressed the application of both regulatory provisions to these practices while maintaining school safety and improving school climate.

“We are concerned that rescission of the guidance reflects a lack of commitment on the part of the Departments to fully enforce federal civil rights law that is intended to ensure that students are not discriminated against because of their race, color, or national origin,” the members continued. “Regardless of the Departments’ recent rescission or future plans to reregulate, the current regulations obligate the Departments to enforce against both intentionally discriminatory policies and practices and those that have a discriminatory effect.”