June 6, 2014

Schools illegally suspended students to comply with feds' disparate-impact mandate?

By Schools illegally suspended students to comply with feds' disparate-impact mandate?

A few months ago, I wrote about the Obama Administration’s announcement that it would apply disparate-impact theory to schools’ discipline policies. According to the Administration, a school presumably violates multiple federal laws if it punishes students of any particular race or gender at a disproportionate rate.

For example, if one race accounts for 25% of a school’s students, they should account for roughly 25% of suspensions. If they account for half of the school’s suspensions, the school would presumably have violated federal law. The concern with the Administration’s view, I noted, is that it has a tendency to cause racial balancing.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has not engaged in racial balancing to end its racial disparities in student discipline. Instead, the nation’s second-largest school district allegedly has been failing to record some suspensions of racial minorities in order to give the appearance that the racial disparities have been reduced. These alleged unofficial suspensions are illegal and against district policy.

Several African-American parents of LAUSD students alleged that their children were sent home without being marked absent or suspended. Two knowledgeable and anonymous sources confirmed that one district principal was removed from his job because of unofficial suspensions. Some school officials have “flatly denied” this practice exists, and other officials have argued that sending home disruptive students with their parents’ permission “did not amount to unofficial suspensions.”

According to an executive director of a non-profit organization in Los Angeles that focuses on student discipline, “the pressure to reduce suspensions is probably causing a lot of unintended consequences.” Perhaps the Obama Administration didn’t intend to encourage unofficial suspensions, but they were foreseeable. Racial balancing is one way for a school to end a racial disparity in student discipline. But, aside from being unjust and “patently unconstitutional,” that “solution” is impractical because it would result in punishing innocent students or giving a free pass to unruly students. A more practical way to avoid the Administration’s wrath is to create the appearance of racially balanced discipline by unofficially suspending some students.

The disparate-impact theory harms anything it applies to, including housing and employment. Indeed, the theory is one reason behind the collapse of the housing market. Harmful results are also inevitable when the theory is applied to schools’ discipline policies.

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