Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (left) and Attorney General Eric Holder
Getty Images/Photo by Scott Olson (file)
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (left) and Attorney General Eric Holder

‘Disparate impact’ hits school discipline


Our government, supported by our tax dollars, already lowers standards in education, employment, and contracting for certain racial groups. Now school discipline is in its sights. Black and Hispanic students in elementary and secondary schools are disciplined disproportionately to their numbers. (This is true for boys in general, but it’s more profitable to focus on race rather than sex.)

In what amounts to an edict from on high, the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice asked government schools to consider race and ethnicity when deciding whether to expel or suspend a student. According to the government’s “guidance” memo to schools, black students are more than three times more likely than white students to be disciplined. More than half of the students arrested or referred to law enforcement in school-related incidents are black and Hispanic. Such numbers aren’t surprising to anyone familiar with U.S. crime statistics. Some facts are politically incorrect, but facts are stubborn things. Regardless of race, the individuals who commit the crimes—of their own volition—bear the consequences of their actions.

A racial disparity isn’t evidence of racial discrimination, and administering justice should be the last place we want the government in the skin-color business. The new policy is “disparate impact” run amok. More than four decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Griggs v. Duke Power Co. that an employer’s high school diploma requirement and aptitude tests violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because black applicants disproportionately lacked diplomas and scored low on the tests. The court contended that these requirements had a disparate impact on them and held that even if an employment practice is neutral on its face, it’s suspect if it affects certain minorities.

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So, even though a law or policy makes no mention of race, nor is it intended to discriminate based on race, it still might violate the law. From the government’s memo to schools (emphasis added):

“Schools also violate Federal law when they evenhandedly implement facially neutral policies and practices that, although not adopted with the intent to discriminate, nonetheless have an unjustified effect of discriminating against students on the basis of race.”

How much fairer can you get than an evenhanded policy? Standards are necessary to maintain a certain level of effectiveness and functioning. Notice that no one suggests getting rid of standards of behavior altogether. High or low, standards should be applied across the board to everyone. Don’t be surprised if the policy leads to quotas. What will end up happening under the so-called guidance, human nature being what it is, is that classrooms will become even more disruptive. Teachers and administrators will have to tolerate discipline-worthy behavior from some students for fear of federal scrutiny and also raise the standards against others committing lower-level infractions to “balance” school discipline.

School discipline should be administered according to the violation, not the perpetrator’s skin color, even if a disproportionate number of one group ends up kicked out of school. Anything less runs the risk of intentional disparate treatment.

La Shawn Barber
La Shawn Barber

La Shawn writes about culture, faith, and politics. Her work has appeared in the Christian Research Journal, Christianity Today, the Washington Examiner, and other publications


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