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ACLU Submits Statement for Landmark Senate Hearing on School Discipline

Written by Featured Organization on 17 December 2012.

WASHINGTON – Congress can help dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline with legislation that would promote positive alternatives to punitive and exclusionary school discipline practices that plague many classrooms around the country, the American Civil Liberties Union will urge a Senate committee. The ACLU submitted a statement for a groundbreaking hearing to be held tomorrow by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights on the impact of overly severe school discipline. “We commend Sen. Durbin for convening this groundbreaking hearing and we hope that the next Congress will enact legislation to prevent discriminatory and extreme discipline practices that disproportionately harm students of color and students with disabilities,” said Laura Murphy, Director of ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office.

“There is a systemic problem nationwide involving overly punitive school discipline policies, which push our schoolchildren out of the classrooms and into jail cells,” said Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU senior legislative counsel. “Congress and the Obama Administration can help address these disparities. Keeping students in school and out of the criminal justice system will dramatically benefit not only students and their families, but the country as a whole.”

The school-to prison-pipeline is a disturbing national trend where children, predominantly students of color and students with disabilities, are pushed out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems because of overreliance on these punitive discipline policies. In the statement, the ACLU recommends that Congress and the Obama Administration support measures that promote positive alternatives to exclusionary school discipline and ending harmful practices like corporal punishment and seclusion and restraint; and to provide federal guidance to local school districts on the use of punitive discipline. According to national data released by the Department of Education in March, African American students are 3 1/2 times more likely than their white peers to be suspended—and while they represented just 18 percent of the students in the sample, they accounted for 39 percent of expulsions. Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions.

Furthermore, though they made up only 12 percent of the students sampled by the Department of Education in their most recent data collection, they made up 70 percent of those subject to physical restraints. Both African American students and students with disabilities are disproportionately subjected to corporal punishment, a violent tactic still legal in 19 states. Specific congressional reforms called for in ACLU’s statement include the following: The Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act (H.R. 3027); The Positive Behavior for Safe and Effective Schools Act (H.R. 3165), The Keeping All Students Safe Act (S. 2020); Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act; and the Youth PROMISE Act (H.R. 2721). The hearing will take place tomorrow at 2 PM in Hart 216. •

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