May 2, 2018

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AASA Releases Findings From School Discipline Survey

Today AASA is releasing an important survey of 950 superintendents in 47 states that analyzes the influence the 2014 Dear Colleague Letter on the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline (referred to hereafter as “the 2014 discipline guidance) on district discipline policies and practices. You can access the analysis here.

Originally when the 2014 guidance and the application of a disparate impact analysis was issued to by the Office of Civil Rights, AASA released a strongly worded statement that we did not think this analysis was appropriate and we felt it was going to be especially difficult for districts to comply with the new requirements given that no funding was dedicated at the federal level to improving discipline practices and policies.

 There has been intense speculation that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) will rescind the 2014 discipline guidance and AASA had the opportunity to meet with officials at the U.S. Department of Education about the guidance this spring to share our views. To better inform our discussions with the Department and other stakeholders AASA partnered with the Association of Educational Service Agencies and ASBO International to ascertain the impact of the 2014 discipline guidance on school districts. Specifically, we sought to understand how the 2014 discipline guidance is perceived in the field as well as how the increasingly aggressive processes that existed under the Obama Administration for investigating individual discipline complaints under Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act had influenced district policies and practices.


  •  The 2014 discipline guidance itself had a very limited impact on changing district discipline policies and practices. Given that only 16 percent of district leaders surveyed in 2018 indicated their district has modified their school discipline policies and practices because of the 2014 discipline guidance, we cannot say that it is having the positive or negative effects some advocates are claiming.
  • More generalized pressure from OCR to address discipline disparities has changed local policies and practices in a different and more substantial way than the guidance. Beginning in 2009, OCR opened hundreds of investigations or compliance reviews that forced districts to change discipline practices and policies. The noticeable uptick in investigations and compliance reviews over the last nine years seems to have acted as a more powerful lever in influencing districts to reduce out-of-school time for students even if teachers, parents or students preferred for that specific child to be removed from class.


Whether the 2014 discipline guidance should stay or go is not something AASA can adequately weigh in on, given the feedback from our survey and our interviews with school leaders. AASA continues to worry about the application of the disparate impact analysis in the K-12 educational context and whether it is appropriate. However, AASA believes the expanded reach of OCR in how it investigates districts for alleged discrimination in student discipline practices is the most substantial problem for districts that can and should be addressed at the federal level. The adoption of a new case-processing manual at OCR and a narrowing of the types of unwritten disciplinary practices OCR can request should make a meaningful positive difference. Outside of OCR’s pace and style of investigating discipline discrimination, the 2014 discipline guidance itself has not been transformative in changing discipline policies and practices for districts.

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