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Many Schools Dropping ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Discipline Policies

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Students work at their desks in front of the empty desk. (credit: Rabih Moghrabi/AFP/Getty Images)

Students work at their desks in front of the empty desk. (credit: Rabih Moghrabi/AFP/Getty Images)

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RICHARDSON (CBSDFW.COM) - The White House is pressing public schools to abandon some age-old discipline policies. In many cases, students are sent to court instead of the principal’s office. They may face courtroom proceedings, police are as visible as principals or teenagers transfer to what is called Alternative School. Race may play a part in the severity of a student’s punishment, according to the Obama administration.

“We saw the disparity in the ethnic discipline, but also saw a number of students having discipline issues,” said Richardson ISD spokesperson Candace Ahlfinger.

The Department of Education said a significant number of America’s school children are removed from schools, for even minor infractions, and that also must change. Some school districts in North Texas have already made changes.

Racial minorities were in the majority when it came to school suspensions and expulsions. The Richardson School District was no stranger to the claim of racial bias driving the motivation behind African American students’ suspensions outpacing fellow white students.

Richardson ISD officials acknowledge they have re-examined discipline directives, in the same manner touted Thursday by the Obama Administration.

“The district took a hard look at what we were doing, and put a system into place, so we monitor our discipline records and discipline actions taken,” said Ahlfinger.

The Department of Education cited a study of Texas schools, which examined one-million students. Nearly six in 10 were suspended or expelled at least once; 95 percent of the suspensions were for non-violent disruptions.

In Dallas ISD, the study showed 62 percent of students who received police-issued citations at school for conduct violations were black. And in Irving, school officials said student discipline is an equal opportunity enforcer.

“I feel very certain, infractions that are done by the students, appropriate consequences are given, and based on what the infraction is, and nothing else in the decision-making process,” said Ahlfinger.

Irving ISD didn’t tell CBS 11 News the break down of student suspensions based on race.  Virtually all North Texas School Districts with 20,000+ student enrollment are minority-majority school systems.

The Department of Education has recommended that public schools take action to create positive school climates that prevent and change student’s inappropriate behaviors. Training staff and engaging families are two ways to facilitate a more positive classroom environment. In addition, the department wants schools to rely on suspension and expulsion as a last resort.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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