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May 1, 2019

Creating Safe and Inclusive Schools: The Federal Role in Addressing Discriminatory School Discipline

Hosted by the Learning Policy Institute, Advancement Project, Dignity in Schools Campaign, The Education Trust, Educators for Excellence, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Education Association, Southern Education Foundation, UnidosUS, and UNCF

teacher talking to student in a school hallway

With Honorary Hosts Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)

Join the conversation: #SafeInclusiveSchools

In December of 2018 the Trump administration rescinded federal guidance that provided research-based practices for reducing discrimination in discipline policies and their application. Nonetheless, there remains an important federal role in enforcing student civil rights protections and supporting state and local efforts to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline policies.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights Data Collection demonstrate that students of color, students with disabilities, and other historically underserved students, are disproportionately suspended and expelled compared with their White and nondisabled peers. These disparities are not a result of more incidences of misbehavior; instead, students of color are punished more harshly for the same behaviors, especially non-violent offenses like tardiness or “talking out of turn.” Research shows that these discriminatory and exclusionary discipline practices have a significant negative impact on these same students as even one suspension can double the likelihood of a student dropping out. Research also shows that zero-tolerance policies make schools less effective and less safe—not safer—for students.

Recognizing that these policies are ineffective and have a lasting, negative impact on students, a number of states and districts have adopted approaches to school discipline designed to create more inclusive learning environments that are safe for all students.

During this briefing, speakers discussed:

  • The results of state and local efforts to create positive, non-exclusionary school discipline policies.
  • Current and previous federal actions related to student discipline policies and practices and their impact on historically underserved students.
  • Research-based policies and practices for creating safe and inclusive learning environments.
  • The role of the federal government in protecting student civil rights and supporting state and local efforts to eliminate policies and practices that have a discriminatory impact.

The Learning Policy Institute also released a new report, Protecting Students’ Civil Rights: The Federal Role in School Discipline.


  • Jessica Cardichon, Director of Federal Policy, Director, DC Office, Learning Policy Institute
  • Ashley Harrington, Director, National Social Justice Program, UNCF
  • Lynn Jennings, Senior Director of National and State Partnerships, The Education Trust
  • Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, National Field Organizer, Dignity in Schools Campaign
  • Carolyne Quintana, Principal, Bronxdale High School
  • Johanna Molina, Senior, Bronxdale High School; President, Peer Mediation Club

Remarks by

  • Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)
  • Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

​Closing remarks by Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director, Advancement Project National Office