Obama Administration calls for equal and fair student discipline

8:06 PM, Jan 8, 2014   |    comments
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Sarasota, Florida -- The Obama Administration is calling for the end of "overly zealous school discipline policies".

The Department of Justice and Department of Education, along with Civil Rights groups such as the ACLU, have been monitoring what has been often described as a "school-to-prison pipeline" where students end up in court instead of the principal's office.

School districts have guidelines for disciplining students, but are they all punished the same regardless of race?

Armando Rojas has a daughter in middle school and says no.

"Because she's Hispanic, she's treated differently," says Armando.

His daughter Mirian says race should not be in issue when disciplining students.

"I want to be treated fairly and equally," says Mirian.

According to ACLU attorney Andrea Mogensen, the new federal guidelines on how to fairly discipline students are long overdue especially since the zero tolerance policy went into effect in schools.

"What's important is we treat kids today all the same no matter what race they are."

But Mogensen says the opposite is happening in schools and adds the proof is in the numbers.

"The disproportionate impact on racial minorities is enormous. A black student is three times as likely to be disciplined as a white student for similar type conduct," explains Mogensen.

In Sarasota, we crunched the numbers for 2011-2012 school year and of the more than 40,000 students (31 percent) are minorities. During that school year, 508 students were expelled and minorities were expelled 60 percent more often than white students.

Mogensen says schools need to go back to disciplining students the way they did a generation ago when teachers and administrators handled the minor everyday issues.

"Too much police presence in schools leads to more juvenile justice involvement earlier in kids' lives and tracks them for a disastrous future -- prioritizing incarceration over education at that end of that road."

But school resource officer Todd Perna with the Sarasota Police Department says SRO's do the opposite.

"We don't want them to get into the criminal justice system. We're trying to build a wall up here to where we can stop them, get a relationship with them and have a rapport," says Perna.

Perna says while zero tolerance infractions are in the school district's hands, students with a first offense get a second chance in Teen Court where they are judged by a panel of their peers.

"We want them to get the student involved in Teen Court instead of the juvenile justice system so they don't have a record going into high school or college," Perna says.

The Obama Administration supports SRO's role to maintain safety in schools and focus on criminal offenses. The Obama guidelines for schools on classroom discipline includes: training school personnel in classroom management, conflict resolution and techniques in how to reduce classroom disruptions.

Teachers, according to the federal guidelines, are responsible for administering routine student discipline instead of SRO's or security officers.

While the Obama Administration calls these student discipline recommendations "guidelines" they are quick to point out schools that do not punish students fairly and equally will face strong consequences.

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