U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark and Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley, along with Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and Reps. Richard Neal, James McGovern, Stephen Lynch, William Keating, Joseph Kennedy III, Seth Moulton and Lori Trahan, sent letters on Sept. 17 to Gov. Charlie Baker and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos expressing concern regarding systemic racial inequities and disparities in school discipline that disproportionately impact students of color in Massachusetts and nationwide.

The letters follow a report released last week by the Appleseed Network, which outlined the disparate impact of school discipline practices nationwide on Black and brown students — particularly Black and brown girls — students with disabilities, LGBTQIA students and other marginalized students. The report found, among other disparities, that Black girls in Massachusetts are nearly four times as likely to face suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement and school-based arrests than white girls.

In their letter to Baker, the lawmakers called on him to reduce these disparities and implement statewide reforms laid out in the Ending PUSHOUT Act, including encouraging school districts to ban the use of suspensions and expulsions for minor infractions and reducing the presence of law enforcement in schools.

“In this moment of national reckoning on racial justice, we must confront and uproot all forms of systemic racism, which includes school discipline practices that criminalize Black and brown students,” the lawmakers wrote to Baker.

In writing to DeVos, the lawmakers criticized the department’s decision to revoke Obama-era guidance that promoted evidence-based discipline practices to reduce these racial disparities and equip school districts with tools to foster safe and nurturing learning environments for all students.

“Under your watch, the Department of Education has worked tirelessly to undermine civil rights protections and encouraged harmful disciplinary practices that deprive students of color — especially Black girls — of their equal opportunity to a quality education,” the lawmakers wrote to DeVos. “We strongly urge you to redress the disparate impact school discipline practices have on students of color and advance desperately needed reforms to give all students the chance to thrive and reach their fullest potential.”

In each letter, the lawmakers asked Baker and DeVos to answer a series of questions regarding their respective efforts to combat discrimination in school discipline. The lawmakers requested a response by Oct. 1.

Since the start of the Trump administration, Clark has repeatedly spotlighted DeVos’ efforts to enact certain policies. During a 2017 appropriations hearing, Clark challenged DeVos on her policy to allow private schools that discriminate against LGBTQIA students to receive federal taxpayer dollars. Clark said she exposed DeVos on the record for supporting schools that openly exclude LGBTQIA students and families. In 2019, Clark called for the resignation of DeVos after Clark said she used a study claiming that Black children are inherently more disruptive to justify revoking the Obama-era school discipline guidance, “Rethink School Discipline.” The 2014 guidance was intended to combat racial discrimination in school discipline practices.

Pressley has been an advocate for policies to end the overcriminalization of students in schools. Last December, she introduced the Ending PUSHOUT Act, which aims to end the criminalization and punitive pushout of girls of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQIA students and other marginalized students from schools and disrupt the school-to-confinement pathway. In July, she introduced the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act to prohibit the use of federal funds to increase police presence in schools and instead provide resources to school districts to support the hiring of counselors, nurses, social workers and other health care providers. She also recently successfully advocated for the release of Grace, a 15-year-old Michigan student with a disability, who was sentenced to juvenile detention for her lack of participation in online learning.

Pressley, along with National Black Women’s Justice Institute founder Monique Morris, discussed the need for the Ending PUSHOUT Act in a joint op-ed published last December. In 2017, as a member of the Boston City Council, Pressley hosted a listening session where she heard directly from girls of color who shared stories that informed the policy recommendations she offered to improve the school climate across the city and center equity in school discipline practices. These same stories helped to inform the Ending PUSHOUT Act, the Congresswoman’s very first education bill as a member of Congress.


Original story here.