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Feds issue new school guidelines to curb overly zealous ‘zero-tolerance’ policies

The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice today released new guidelines for school teachers and administrators that encourage less reliance on suspensions, expulsions and other harsh penalties as punishment for infractions.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder announced the suggested changes at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, Maryland.  The wide-ranging series of guidelines essentially tell schools that they could face serious action if they do are not fairly and equally dispensing punishments.  Holder said so-called ‘zero-tolerance’ policies can make students feel unwelcome in their schools and can have lasting, negative effects on their well-being.

Critics have argued stiff penalties for bad behavior at schools are disproportionately given to minority students.  In some states, school misbehavior can warrant a criminal citation.

“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,” Holder said.

The new guidelines include a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter outlining expectations regarding civil rights and discipline, as well as ‘Guiding Principles’ drawn from research and best practices on the subject.

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