The Obama administration released new guidelines on classroom discipline Wednesday in an effort to improve equality among students of different races.
“Each year, significant numbers of students miss class due to suspensions and expulsions – even for minor infractions of school rules – and students of color and with disabilities are disproportionately impacted," the Justice Department said in a news release. "The guidance package provides resources for creating safe and positive school climates, which are essential for boosting student academic success and closing achievement gaps."
Numerous reports have held that Hispanic and African American students are punished disproportionately to their white peers. Reuters reported that black students are three times more likely that white students to be suspended or expelled. Students with disabilities also make up a disproportionate amount of those suspended or arrested for infractions in schools.
"A routine school discipline infraction should land a student in a principal's office — not in a police precinct," Holder said in an appearance in Baltimore with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Activists are celebrating the policy as a long-needed step to combat the cycle of racism in schools.
“This is historic,” Judith Browne Dianis, codirector of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization, told the Washington Post. “Disparities in school discipline have been documented since the 1970s, and we’ve never been able to get the federal government to step in and help stop it.”
While the measure is intended to prevent teachers and administrators from punishing students for their race, some opponents see it as instituting racial quotas that unfairly punish some students while letting others slide.
“Eventually, you’ll have disorder in schools. … They either suspend white students for relatively trivial things or they don’t punish black students for behavior that is really disruptive or even violent,” Hans Bader, a senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told the Washington Times. “You’re effectively commanding them to have racial quotas.”
Along with the guidelines, the Obama administration is also proposing a $50-million grant program to improve school safety and student behavior.