US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled new school discipline guidelines Wednesday at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, the Baltimore Sun reports.
“The need to rethink and redesign school discipline practices is, frankly, long overdue,” the Sun quoted Mr Duncan as saying. “Too many schools resort too quickly to exclusionary discipline, even for minor misbehavior.”
Mr Holder added that zero-tolerance policies are discriminatory and “make students feel unwelcome in their own schools.”
According to the article, suspensions have dropped by 46 percent at Douglass since 2007, reflecting guidelines established by the Maryland State Board of Education over the last four years.
For example, at a roundtable discussion with students, Mr Holder learned of a focus by the school’s principal on students holding their peers accountable for their behavior. In summarizing the roundtable, one student was quoted as saying that the federal officials “like the idea that we got to handle stuff. They wanted other schools to be like us.”
The nationwide problem of zero tolerance and taking kids out of school for even minor infractions was investigated in a Texas study reported by Mr Duncan: “Nearly six in ten public school students—a majority of students—were suspended or expelled at least once between seventh and 12th grade,” he said.
He then called on schools nationwide to address the underlying causes of students acting out, such as problems at home or in their communities. “We must get beyond the surface issue and get to the heart of the problem,” he said. “Schools should be training staff, engaging families and community partners, and deploying real resources to help students develop the resolution skills they need to avoid or de-escalate problems.”
He included in his remarks a famous quote from the school’s namesake: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”