Biden administration pushes for school discipline feedback

The Education Department is asking the public for feedback about school discipline, in the latest suggestion that President Joe Biden’s administration is weighing new policy guidance on campus safety after a yearslong political fight over disparities in school punishment.

During the coming weeks, the department’s Office for Civil Rights wants to collect written comments about the usefulness of current and previous federal guidance on school discipline. Officials also seek the public’s take on a broad list of concerns, including the use of suspensions and expulsions, corporal punishment, so-called seclusion and restraint practices, and school interactions with law enforcement.

Additionally, civil rights officials asked the public to “identify and address individual and intersectional discrimination as appropriate” — including disproportionate discipline of students who have disabilities, or are of a certain race, color, gender or sexual orientation.

The department said it will use the public’s comments to inform decisions about what policy guidance, technical assistance or other resources might help K-12 schools provide safe environments and ensure the non-discriminatory use of school discipline.

Flashback: The department’s request could rekindle a debate that intensified under former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Obama’s administration issued school discipline guidance in 2014, citing disparities in punishment amid a push to end what is often called the "school-to-prison pipeline." But the Trump administration scrapped the Obama-era guidance in 2018 — following a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people — saying the policy threatened the safety of students and teachers.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona hinted to lawmakers last month that he would restore the Obama-era guidance.

“Discrimination and use of exclusionary discipline can negatively impact students’ abilities to learn, grow and thrive,” Cardona said in a statement on Friday.

The data: “Our nation’s civil rights laws require fair and nondiscriminatory school discipline practices,” Suzanne Goldberg, the department’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement. “Yet we have data that show concerning disparities based on race, sex, and disability in the administration of discipline.”

In 2018, a Government Accountability Office review of federal data found that Black students, boys and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined in public schools.

Black students represented 15 percent of student enrollment in the 2017-18 school year, the department said, but represented 38 percent of students who received one or more out-of-school suspensions. Students with disabilities represented 13 percent of student enrollment during that time frame, but represented 25 percent of students who received one or more out-of-school suspensions.