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October 3, 2014

California Takes Lead In Ending School-To-Prison Pipeline

California has once again shown itself to be a leader in promoting civil rights and equality for all by banning school suspensions for K-3rd grade students and expulsions for all students under the subjective and often-abused “willful defiance” standard in the Education Code.  As part of our mission to fight bigotry of all kinds, ADL has had a long history of supporting equal access to quality education for all students—the goal promised in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling in 1954.  This momentous change in California law, which ADL proudly supported, will bring us a significant step closer to that

The new law specifies that a public school student in grades 6-12 may be suspended for willful defiance—which can be as minor as a dress code violation or failure to hand in homework—only after the third offense in a school year, and provided that other means of resolving the behavioral problems were first attempted.  The law also prohibits a school from recommending that student for expulsion solely for willful defiance.  The law now encourages schools to invest in children rather than resorting to harsh out-of-school discipline for relatively minor offenses.  Its passage will ensure that students remain where they need to be—in class—and not on the streets or in the criminal justice system.

Although there are many fac­tors that con­tribute to a student’s inability to thrive in school, the cycle of sus­pen­sions and expul­sions is among the best indi­ca­tors of which stu­dents will drop out.  Stu­dents who drop out of school have more dif­fi­culty find­ing gain­ful employ­ment, have much lower earn­ing power when they are employed, and ulti­mately are more likely to wind up in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.  This troubling phenomenon—which dis­pro­por­tion­ately impacts stu­dents of color, stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties, and stu­dents who iden­tify as les­bian, gay, bisex­ual or trans­gen­der—has become known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”  Working to dismantle the pipeline has become a key focus of ADL’s civil rights and education agendas.

Both the Los Angeles Unified School District and the San Francisco Unified School District have already completely banned suspensions and expulsions for willful defiance, taking a significant step towards dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.  California’s new statewide law will sunset in three and a half years.  During this time, ADL will be working with coalition partners on new bills and initiatives to strengthen protections for students and develop additional alternative methods for changing negative student behaviors with positive interventions.

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May 15, 2014

Brown v. Board of Education: 60 Years Later, the Legacy Unfulfilled


LOC2Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education the promise of equal educational opportunities in the United States remains unfulfilled. On May 17, 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Brown desegregating America’s schools.  Finding that “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education,” the Court concluded that education “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”

Today African American and Latino students are more than twice as likely to drop out of school as their white peers. Although there are many factors that contribute to this troubling inequity, school suspensions and expulsions are among the best indicators for which students will drop out of school. A student who has been suspended from school is more than three times more likely to drop out in the first two years of high school than a student who has never been suspended.  Students who drop out of school have more difficulty finding gainful employment, have much lower earning power when they are employed, and ultimately are more likely to become involved with the criminal justice system.  This cycle of suspensions and expulsions that leads to students dropping out of school, which in turn leads to increased likelihood of incarceration, has become known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Harsh school discipline policies disproportionately impact students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).  Data from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights shows that black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than their white peers.  Similarly, students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as students with no disabilities and LGBT youth are much more likely than their heterosexual peers to be suspended or expelled.  Contrary to some hypotheses, studies have found little difference in students’ behavior across racial lines to account for the disproportionality.  Rather, studies have found that African American students tend to receive harsher punishment for less serious behavior, and are more often punished for subjective offenses, such as “loitering” or “disrespect.”

The bad news doesn’t end with the data about discipline. There are other disproportionate, negative impacts related to segregated schools and they represent what can be known as the educational opportunity gap.  Students in majority black and Latino schools are taught by fewer certified teachers, and their teachers are paid less than teachers at predominantly white schools. Schools that are predominantly black and Latino offer fewer courses necessary to attend competitive colleges and have fewer gifted and talented programs.

The data boils down to a truth many have known for a long time.  Race is still a prominent predictor of access to quality and equity in schools. It remains as important as ever to discuss issues of racial disparity critically and thoughtfully in local communities.

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May 14, 2014

From The Archives: ADL’s Involvement In Brown v. Board

Saturday, May 17th marks the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that ruled racially segregated public schools “inherently unequal” and ordered the desegregation of America’s public schools. ADL-brown-amicus-brief

Acting on its mandate “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination,” in October 1952 ADL’s National Commission resolved to encourage federal and state legislators “to support legislation to insure the greatest possible protection of civil rights and equality of opportunity for all in the fundamental fields of employment, education and housing.”

The next month, ADL filed an amicus brief in Brown, arguing that because African American children were “disadvantaged by the segregated public school system of Topeka” the Court should “disavow the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine as it has been applied to public educational institutions.”

ADL’s brief noted a lower court’s finding that segregation “irreparably damages the child,” and argued that “that which is unequal in fact cannot be equal in law.” The brief’s final argument read:

Legally imposed segregation in our country, in any shape, manner or form, weakens our program to build and strengthen world democracy and combat totalitarianism. In education, at the lower levels, it indelibly fixes anti-social attitudes and behavior patterns by building inter-group antagonisms. It forces a sense of limitation upon the child and destroys incentive. It produces feelings of inferiority and discourages racial self-appreciation.

Today, ADL continues to combat discrimination in schools and advocate for education equity. On its 60th anniversary, we recognize the Brown decision as a monumental leap forward in the ongoing fight for equal education.

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