Experts slam DOJ letter telling schools to implement race-based punishments

Robby Soave Reporter
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Education experts decried a new memo from the Departments of Justice and Education that instructs public schools throughout the country to cease punishing disruptive students if they fall into certain racial categories, such as black or Hispanic.

The letter, released on Wednesday, states that it is a violation of federal law for schools to punish certain races more than others, even if those punishments stem from completely neutral rules. For example, equal numbers of black students and white students should be punished for tardiness, even if black students are more often tardy than white students. (RELATED: DOJ to schools: It’s racist to punish students for behaving badly, texting in class)

Here is the relevant section of the letter:

“Schools also violate Federal law when they evenhandedly implement facially neutral policies and practices that, although not adopted with the intent to discriminate, nonetheless have an unjustified effect of discriminating against students on the basis of race.

Examples of policies that can raise disparate impact concerns include policies that impose mandatory suspension, expulsion, or citation (e.g., ticketing or other fines or summonses) upon any student who commits a specified offense — such as being tardy to class, being in possession of a cellular phone, being found insubordinate, acting out, or not wearing the proper school uniform.”

The Daily Caller asked several education experts to weigh in on the letter’s recommendations; all three raised serious concerns about the ramifications of changing school disciplinary procedures to engineer equal outcomes across the races.

Joy Pullmann, managing editor of School Reform News, told TheDC that any notion of equal racial discipline is obviously flawed.

“It’s ridiculous to assign quotas for discipline based on race,” she said. “If we did that, for one thing, we’d have to believe that Asian students are severely under-disciplined.”

Andrew Coulson, director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, said the letter’s policies, if implemented, would actually harm black children, by making the classrooms they inhabit “more chaotic.”

“The kinds [of kids] who just want to be free to learn in peace, who are not disruptive, have their education injured by the disruptive kids who remain in the classroom,” Coulson told TheDC. “And since African American kids are more often assigned to schools like that, they’ll be the ones most hurt.”

Coulson previously testified before the U.S. Senate that establishing disciplinary racial quotas would be disruptive to students, but his advice was ignored. “Pivotal research” was omitted from the recent memo, he said.

“They risk harming the education of a lot of kids,” he said.

Frederick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, described the letter as “troubling,” and an attempt to intimidate schools into initiating bad policy.

“As best I can tell, they are telling schools that even if you have policies that are clearly neutral, that are clearly evenhanded, that are clearly designed to create safe environments for students and educators, DOJ still might come down on you like a ton of bricks,” Hess told TheDC.

Hess said it is desirable for schools to eliminate policies that treat black students unfairly, but DOJ’s new recommendations, “have overshot by a mile in terms of their proposed solution.”

“The only possible explanation is that you have got a room full of civil rights lawyers having a field day without talking to the real people, the educators who are going to be affected,” said Hess.

Pullmann also worried about the effect on classrooms. She said she has spoken to teachers who experienced a breakdown in the classroom learning environment when policies like this were implemented.

“Kids of the favored race know they can get away with more, so they misbehave more, and the well-behaved kids lose out on instruction because the teacher is busy trying to manage unruly students she can’t send to the principal’s office,” said Pullmann.

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