NCTE applauds the U.S. Department of Education for today releasing groundbreaking federal guidance that presses for non-discriminatory and non-exclusionary school discipline policies. The Department’s guidance recognizes that many schools’ heavy reliance on suspension, expulsion, and law enforcement is doing more harm than good and frequently has discriminatory effects. While the disproportionate impact of “zero tolerance” policies on youth of color is now well known, research has also shown that LGBT youth are also at risk of disproportionate discipline and exclusion. Transgender and gender nonconforming students are often disciplined solely for their gender expression, and in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey 6% of transgender adults said they had been expelled from school because of their gender identity or expression.
Today’s guidance sends a clear message to schools across the country that the age of simplistic zero-tolerance policies must end, and provides a path to more positive practices that schools can easily understand and follow. While we’re disappointed that the guidelines do not specifically address the impacts on and rights of LGBT students, the principles outlined by the Department apply equally to discriminatory treatment toward LGBT youth. This is a victory for all students. We encourage LGBT youth, families, allies, and advocates to use this guidance as a tool to press for better approaches in their own communities.
In December, NCTE joined GLSEN, GSA Network and other LGBT advocates in submitting testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the school-to-prison pipeline. In that testimony, we said:
In recent years there has been an unprecedented conflation of school discipline policy and sanctions traditionally reserved for the juvenile justice system. In fact, the connection between school discipline and the juvenile courts has become so close that it led to the coining of the phrase “school-to-prison pipeline.” …We firmly believe that the increasing use of exclusionary discipline and zero tolerance policies in our schools is the wrong approach and contributes to unhealthy school climates, strengthens, rather than dismantles the school-to-prison pipeline and may be a contributing factor to the disproportionally high numbers of LGBT youth in custody.
We urge schools everywhere to take this guidance to heart, and recommit themselves to creating an environment where all students are valued and can succeed. The Department of Education guidance documents can be found here. Educators, students, parents, and advocates are also encouraged to consult the NCTE/GLSEN Model School District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students and our resource Your Rights at School, which outlines the rights of LGBT students to file civil rights complaints with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.