Congresswomen Clark & Pressley Press Governor Baker and Secretary DeVos on Racial Inequities & Disparities in School Discipline

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Press release and photo from Congresswoman Katherine Clark’s office

WASHINGTON DC – Katherine Clark (MA-05) and Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), along with Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Representatives Richard E. Neal (MA-01), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08), William Keating (MA-09), Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA-04), Seth Moulton (MA-06) and Lori Trahan (MA-03), today sent letters to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos expressing deep 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 glaring 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—and highlighted the need to redress the impact of disciplinary practices that unfairly discipline Black and brown girls for their appearance, their communication styles, and the trauma they have experienced. 

In their letter to Governor 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, reducing the presence of law enforcement in schools, and more. 

“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 Governor Baker. 

In writing to Secretary 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 the tools necessary 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 Secretary 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 Governor Baker and Secretary DeVos to answer a series of questions regarding their respective efforts to combat discrimination in school discipline. The lawmakers requested a response by October 1, 2020. 

Since the start of the Trump administration, Congresswoman Clark has repeatedly shone a spotlight on Secretary DeVos’ repeated efforts to enact discriminatory 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. Ultimately, Clark was able to expose DeVos on the record for supporting schools that openly exclude LGBTQIA students and families. 

In 2019, Congresswoman Clark called for the resignation of Secretary DeVos after it came to light that 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.

Congresswoman Pressley has been an outspoken advocate for policies to end the overcriminalization of students in our 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 unjustly sentenced to juvenile detention for her lack of participation in online learning. 

Congresswoman Pressley, along with National Black Women’s Justice Institute founder Monique Morris, discussed the need for the Ending PUSHOUT Act in 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 school the 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. 

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