Attorney General and Education Secretary Announce Joint Project To Address School Disciplinary Practices

Photo of Attorney General Eric Holder
Photo of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
On July 21, 2011, at the quarterly meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in Washington, DC, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the creation of the Supportive School Discipline Initiative. The Initiative is a collaboration between the two agencies to target the school disciplinary policies and in-school arrests that push youth out of school and into the justice system, also known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

The project will be implemented in coordination with other organizations in the nonprofit and philanthropic communities that are also working to reduce the use of disciplinary practices such as suspension and expulsion, which place children at higher risk of poor academic achievement and dropout, illegal behavior, and entry into the justice system.

"Ensuring that our educational system is a doorway to opportunity—and not a point of entry to our criminal justice system—is a critical, and achievable, goal," said Attorney General Holder. "By bringing together government, law enforcement, academic, and community leaders, I'm confident that we can make certain that school discipline policies are enforced fairly and do not become obstacles to future growth, progress, and achievement."

"Maintaining safe and supportive school climates is absolutely critical, and we are concerned about the rising rates and disparities in discipline in our nation's schools," said Secretary Duncan. "By teaming up with stakeholders on this issue and through the work of our offices throughout the department, we hope to promote strategies that will engage students in learning and keep them safe."

The goals of the Supportive School Discipline Initiative are to:

  • Build consensus for action among federal, state, and local education and justice stakeholders.
  • Collaborate on research and data collection that may be needed to inform this work, such as evaluations of alternative disciplinary policies and interventions.
  • Develop guidance to ensure that school discipline policies and practices comply with the nation's civil rights laws and to promote positive disciplinary options to both keep kids in school and improve the climate for learning.
  • Promote awareness and knowledge about evidence-based and promising policies and practices among state judicial and education leaders.

left quoteThe use of excessive and inappropriate school discipline practices too often contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline.right quote

—Attorney General Eric Holder

The announcement of the new initiative came 2 days after the Council of State Governments' (CSG's) release of findings of a statewide study on the impact of school disciplinary practices on students' academic success and juvenile justice involvement. Among other findings, the study determined that nearly six in ten public school students were suspended or expelled at least once between their seventh- and twelfth-grade school years. Students who were suspended or expelled, particularly those who were repeatedly disciplined, were more likely to be held back a grade or to drop out than were students not involved in the disciplinary system. The study also found that when a student was suspended or expelled, his or her likelihood of being involved in the juvenile justice system the subsequent year increased significantly.

"The use of excessive and inappropriate school disciplinary practices too often contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline," said Attorney General Holder. Citing the CSG study, Attorney General said the results were a "wake-up call."