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OCR Issues Request for Information Regarding Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline

Education K-12 Education

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) issued a Request for Information that asks members of the public to submit written comments regarding the administration of school discipline in K-12 schools. OCR stated the purpose of the Request is to inform determinations regarding policy guidance, technical assistance, and other resources for K-12 schools that improve school climate and safety and ensure equal access to educational programs and activities.  

The impetus for the request was due, in part, to data from OCR’s Civil Rights Data Collection (“CRDC”) that highlighted continuing racial disparities in student discipline. Specifically, the data demonstrated that students of color are subjected to disproportionate disciplinary action when compared to White peers. For example, the data revealed that in 2017-2018, Black students represented only 15 percent of the total student enrollment but accounted for 29 percent of referrals to law enforcement. In contrast, White students accounted for 47 percent of total student enrollment, but only 38 percent of referrals to law enforcement. Black students also received disproportionately more exclusionary discipline consequences than their White counterparts. CRDC data also revealed that these disparities are apparent in the treatment of students with disabilities as well.  

Accordingly, OCR has asked students, families, educators, school leaders, and community-based organizations for input regarding ongoing discipline challenges in K-12 schools, particularly as they relate to school closures, virtual learning, reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, and practices for addressing student discipline and creating positive school climates in these unique learning environments. Information on the specific questions OCR is hoping to address through the Request for Information and how to submit a response can be found here. The questions target issues including: the usefulness of prior OCR guidance on student discipline, policies and practices that are concerning as well as those that are promising (including but not limited to comments related to suspensions for young students, dress codes, restraint and seclusion, corporal punishment, threat assessments, surveillance technologies, and off-campus and social media behavior), and the use of data to identify and address disciplinary disparities. These topics give some insight on the potential priorities and guidance we may see from OCR during this Administration.   

Our July 8, 2021, Educational Equity Webinar will address student discipline, including many of the issues highlighted above. Please join us by registering here. If you have questions regarding the Request for Information or student discipline at your school generally, please reach out to the authors of this post or any Franczek attorney.