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Westerner Calls for Voiding of Obama Race-Based School Discipline Policy

Apr 04, 2017 | by William Perry Pendley

DENVER, CO.  A western legal and public policy expert who has argued and won cases before the Supreme Court of the United States regarding the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee today urged the Trump administration to withdraw a controversial 2014 order by the Obama administration requiring public schools to discipline students on the basis of their race.  William Perry Pendley, president of Mountain States Legal Foundation, in a letter delivered today to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos urged voiding of a directive—styled a “Dear Colleague” letter—sent to State and local public school officials across the country by senior officials in the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education.  The “Dear Colleague” letter (titled, “Dear Colleague Letter on the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline”) warns recipients that the federal Departments of Justice and Education will “initiate investigations” over “racial disparities in student discipline”—in some cases, even when the disparity merely reflects the fact that minority students “are engaging” in specified misconduct “at a higher rate than students of other races.”

According to Mr. Pendley, the “Dear Colleague” January 8, 2014, letter violates federal law, misinterprets Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and pressures recipients to violate the Equal Protection Clause.  In addition, the “Dear Colleague” letter constitutes illegal rulemaking in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, promotes a policy that has a horrific record when used by local school districts, and has been the subject of almost universal condemnation by knowledgeable experts.  In St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, the results of using racial equity rules to discipline students were nothing short of disastrous, specifically “violence and chaos.” Because “kids… consider themselves untouchable [w]e are seeing more violence and more serious violence.”  “[A]t many elementary schools, anarchy reigned.”

Jason Riley, in an op-ed entitled, “An Obama Decree Continues to Make Public Schools Lawless,” Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2017, at A19, questions why, two months into the Trump administration, the “Dear Colleague” letter is still official policy.  Referencing a newly released study (“School Discipline Reform and Disorder:  Evidence from New York City Public schools, 2012-2016,” by Max Eden, Manhattan Institute, March 14, 2017), he notes that more than half of the nation’s 50 largest school districts have reduced suspensions “to the dismay of those on the front lines.”

“That the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter was issued illegally, that similar policies have yielded disastrous results for students, teachers, and even the intended beneficiaries (allowing students to avoid any responsibility for their actions, said one teacher, means they are destined to go ‘from the school house to the jail house’), and that it earned the condemnation of public policy experts should spell its doom,” said William Perry Pendley.  “Nothing more needs to be said.  Please withdraw the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter as soon as possible.” 

Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system.  Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.

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