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Report Highlights PA School Discipline Disparities

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Research shows unequal application of school discipline is due to different treatment, not different behavior by students. (MIA Studio/Adobe Stock)
Research shows unequal application of school discipline is due to different treatment, not different behavior by students. (MIA Studio/Adobe Stock)
 By Andrea Sears - Producer, Contact
May 13, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- A report to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission recommends banning exclusionary discipline for nonviolent offenses in Pennsylvania public schools.

Monday will be the 67th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling found racial segregation in schools is unconstitutional.

Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center who served on the Commission's Pennsylvania Advisory Committee, said students of color, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students in the state are more likely to face suspension, expulsion or transfer despite evidence they do not misbehave at higher rates.

"We have to acknowledge how much work we still have to do to achieve the goals of Brown v. Board and that in our schools we still discriminate," Klehr asserted.

The report recommended using positive behavior supports and restorative practices for nonviolent behavior rather than punishment.

Klehr pointed out so-called "zero tolerance" policies that impose harsh punishments for even minor infractions have negative consequences that affect the entire school.

"Exclusionary discipline practices are harmful not only to the students who are expelled or suspended but to all of the students who remain in that classroom," Klehr contended.

She emphasized actions need to be taken on the local, state and federal levels to help create a positive climate in schools.

The report cited inequities in school funding as a factor contributing to discriminatory disciplinary practices.

Klehr noted underfunded districts are more likely to resort to punishment rather than providing more costly and more effective social supports.

"We need to address the systemic inequities affecting the educational outcomes of Black and brown students and other marginalized students whose identities intersect with those groups highlighted in this report," Klehr urged.

The report noted in 2013, when Texas implemented alternatives to exclusionary discipline, serious disciplinary actions, expulsions and violence in schools declined sharply.

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