AG Vows to Advance Obama’s Push to End ‘Zero Tolerance’ School Discipline Policies

Penny Starr | May 14, 2015 | 9:40pm EDT
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Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke at the National Summit on Youth Violence Prevention on May 12, 2015 in Crystal City, Va. ( Starr)

( – Attorney General Loretta Lynch vowed on Tuesday to continue the Obama administration’s push for public schools to abandon their “zero tolerance” discipline policy, because critics claim it is aimed disproportionately at minority students and other “at risk” youth, including migrants and LGBT students.

“We are working with our partners in the private sector, and of course, the federal government, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, to end the school to prison pipeline that sends too many children on the well-worn path from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse,” Lynch said at the National Summit on Youth Violence Prevention in Crystal City, Va.

“And we are standing up and speaking out against so-called zero tolerance school discipline policies that bar the doors of opportunity for children who need support, leaving them stigmatized and marginalized, left out and left alone,” Lynch said.

In January 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued a 37-page report explaining the administration’s opposition to “zero tolerance” policies in public schools, titled “Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline.”

The report reads, in part:

“Schools should consider crafting goals covering the school’s provision of supports for all students, including students of color, students with disabilities, and students who may be at risk for dropping out of school, trauma, social exclusion, or behavior incidents,” the report states.

“Those with such risks include, but are not limited to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students; homeless and unaccompanied students; corrections-involved students; students in foster care; pregnant and parenting students; migrant students; English language learners; and others,” it states.

“For example, specific goals may include reducing the total numbers of suspensions and expulsions, reducing the number of law enforcement referrals from the school, identifying and connecting at-risk youths to tailored supports, or increasing the availability of quality mental health supports available for students,” the report states.
A 2001 report by the National Association of School Psychologists showed what percentage of U.S. public school had zero tolerance for “serious offenses” as follows:

  • firearms (94%)

  • weapons other than firearms (91%)

  • alcohol (87%)

  • drugs (88%)

  • violence (79%)

  • tobacco (79%)

The summit is a federal government initiative -- now in its fourth year -- that includes giving grant funding to U.S. cities to develop programs to prevent youth violence. To date, 15 cities have been selected for the grants (amounts of the grants were not disclosed), including Baltimore, Md.; Boston, Mass.; Camden, N.J.; Chicago, Ill.; Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Mich.; Long Beach, Calif.; Louisville, Ky.; Memphis, Tenn.; Minneapolis, Minn.; New Orleans, La.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Salinas, Calif.; San Jose, Calif. and Seattle, Wash.

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