AG Nessel Commends US Department of Education for Initiating Action to Address Inequities in School Discipline Following AGs' Letter

Contact: Lynsey Mukomel 517-599-2746
Agency: Attorney General

June 16, 2021

LANSING - After leading a coalition of 23 attorneys general last month in a letter urging the federal government to issue guidance addressing inequities in student discipline, Attorney General Dana Nessel is applauding the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for taking quick action by issuing a formal request for public comment on the subject. 

In May, the coalition of attorneys general sent a letter to DOE Secretary Miguel Cardona and Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting the reinstatement and expansion of a 2014 federal guidance package designed to help public elementary and secondary schools meet their obligations under federal law to administer student discipline equitably.  

The 2014 guidance was withdrawn in 2018 despite DOE's data continuing to show racial disparities in the use of school discipline across the country. The AGs requested the federal government address discrimination in school discipline based not only on race, but also on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. 

Last week, the DOE issued a request for information related to "Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline."   

While not a specific response to the coalition's letter, DOE's launch of a public comment period to collect information is a step in the right direction and acknowledges many of the statistics raised in the coalition's letter.  Importantly, DOE's request for information acknowledges that "students of color are disproportionately subjected to disciplinary actions in contrast to their White peers."  The request for information also recognizes the disproportionate use of school discipline against students with disabilities, as well as the intersectional discrimination represented in the data for students based on race and sex or race and disability.  

"I'm pleased to see the Department of Education recognizes the need to evaluate how school discipline is administered throughout the country," Nessel said. "Current statistics prove more must be done to ensure every student - regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability - has an equitable experience in our public school system. It is my hope this comment period will lead to additional action that makes up for the progress lost since the original guidance package was withdrawn in 2018." 

Data referenced in the coalition's letter included statistics from the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) 2015-2016 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC).  

The request for information-for the first time-provides statistics from its 2017-2018 CRDC, which showed: 

  • Black girls were the only group across all races or ethnicities for girls where a disparity in school suspensions was observed. Black girls accounted for 11.1 percent of in-school suspensions and 13.3 percent of out-of-school suspensions, which is almost two times their share of total student enrollment of 7.4 percent.  
  • Black boys accounted for 7.7 percent of total student enrollment and received both in-school suspensions and out-of-school suspensions at rates (20.1 percent and 24.9 percent, respectively) almost three times their share of total student enrollment-the largest disparity across all race/ethnicity and sex groupings.  
  • Students with disabilities were also overrepresented in exclusionary disciplinary actions as shown by CRDC data from 2017-2018. Despite representing only 13 percent of the student population, they represented 25 percent of all students who received one or more out-of-school suspensions and 15 percent of those who were expelled without educational services in 2017- 2018.  
  • Black students with disabilities represented 26 percent of expulsions without educational services although they accounted for only 18 percent of all students provided services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2017-2018. 

The request for information sets a July 23 deadline for the submission of materials for DOE to consider. 

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