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Attorney General Josh Stein Calls for Fairer Treatment for Students in Schools

For Immediate Release:
Monday, May 24, 2021

Laura Brewer (919) 716-6484

(RALEIGH) Attorney General Josh Stein today urged U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Attorney General Merrick Garland to reinstate and expand guidance to help public elementary and secondary schools discipline students equitably.

“When we treat students unfairly based on their race, sexual orientation, or any other factor, we harm them in ways that reverberate long after they leave school,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “We cannot fail our children like this – I urge the federal government to put in place the protections we need to make sure our young people are treated fairly.”

In 2014, the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) jointly issued a guidance package that explained that federal law prohibits school discipline that intentionally discriminates or unintentionally results in a disparate impact based on a student’s race, color, or national origin. Four years later, DOE and DOJ withdrew the guidance. This coalition of attorneys general is asking the departments to address this critical issue affecting some of our most vulnerable children by reinstating and expanding the 2014 guidance.

In their letter, the coalition points out that exclusionary discipline, or forms of disciplining students that take them away from their standard educational environment, remains prevalent across the country and continues to disproportionally impact students of color. Additionally, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students are also more frequently subjected to exclusionary discipline methods. Because of emerging data on these issues, the attorneys general are also asking DOE and DOJ to expand the guidance to address discrimination in school discipline on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.

Data from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) 2015-2016 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) and the National Bureau of Economic Research indicates that:

  • Black male students represented eight percent of enrolled students yet accounted for 25 percent of students who received an out-of-school suspension.
  • Black female students represented eight percent of students enrolled and 14 percent of out-of-school suspensions.
  • Expulsion rates for all Black students accounted for 33 percent of all expulsions despite accounting for a total of 16 percent of students enrolled.
  • Attending a school with an above average use of suspension increases a student’s future chances of being incarcerated by 17 percent. If the student is minority, the chance of incarceration increases by an additional 3.1 percent.

As part of his role as co-chair for the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, Attorney General Stein’s letter aligns with the Task Force’s recommendations to revise the role of School Resource Officers and stem the school-to-prison pipeline and rethink juvenile justice. The Task Force recommended solutions including hiring behavioral health professionals in schools and funding school personnel training on mental health, first aid, cultural competence/diversity/inclusion, and developmental disability.

Attorney General Stein is joined in sending this letter by the Attorneys General of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

A copy of the letter is available here.


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