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A perverse civil rights crusade

Paul Mirengoff took note of President Obama’s war on school discipline here earlier this year. This is one war Obama believes in.

It is part of the larger ideological war traveling under the rubric of “diversity” or “multiculturalism.” We are all familiar with it. These seem to me a few of the tenets at its core: (a) outcomes must be equal among racial and ethnic groups, except when they accrue to the advantage of a racial or ethnic “minority” (including women); (b) disparate outcomes among racial and ethnic groups represent some form of institutional bias to be rectified by government action; (c) all cultures are equal, except for that of the United States, which is eternally guilty of racism under (a) and (b) above; (d) the expression of views disagreeing with (a) through (c) must be suppressed or, if it cannot be suppressed, must be stigmatized as “racist.”

Yesterday the Obama administration promulgated the latest Department of Justice/Department of Education Dear Colleague Letter on school discipline.
The policy statement explicitly applies disparate impact analysis to school discipline.

Under the policy, no teacher can send a misbehaving student to the principal without fear that her decision will be second-guessed by the federal government. Non-discriminatory treatment isn’t enough. DOJ/DoEd want to see equal results. The AP covers the story here; Paul Sperry comments here.

The Department of Education has been following this policy for three or four years now. The United States Commission on Civil Rights saw this misadventure coming down the pike. The Commission issued its School Discipline and Disparate Impact report on this topic in 2012. Commissioner Gail Heriot has been a voice of sanity on the subject. Here is an excerpt of her statement from the report:

The danger should be obvious: What if an important reason African-American students were being disciplined more often than white or Asian students is that more African-American students were misbehaving? And what if the cost of failing to discipline those students primarily falls on their fellow African-American students who are trying to learn amid classroom disorder? Will unleashing the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and its army of lawyers cause those schools to eliminate only that portion of the discipline gap (if any) that was the result of race discrimination? Or will schools react more heavy-handedly by tolerating more classroom disorder, thus making it more difficult for students who share the classroom with unruly students to learn?

There are two sides to the “disparate impact” coin. Secretary Duncan focuses only upon the fact that, as a group, African-American students are suspended and expelled more often than other students. By failing to consider the other side of the coin—that African-American students may be disproportionately victimized by disorderly classrooms—his policy could easily end up doing more harm than good to the very group he is attempting to help.

See also John R. Martin, “School Discipline and Disparate Impact,” published last year by the Federalist Society. This essay comes out of the Commission hearing (Martin was special assistant to Commissioner Todd Gaziano) and takes up all the key points.

In short, this is another perverse civil rights crusade. Black children live in fatherless households much more often than white or Asian children. It would accordingly be highly unusual for the rates of misbehavior to be the same across races. The policy guarantees that teachers will not be able to help fill the gap by providing a well-disciplined environment at school. The victims of this particular civil rights crusade are black children looking for a decent education.

UPDATE: Jeryl Bier takes a look at Holder’s speech yesterday announcing the policy in “Eric Holder: School fights are ‘relatively minor transgressions.’”

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