U.S. Department of Education continues to fail students of color and LGBTQ students
Today, PFLAG National, GLSEN, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) condemned the recommendation of the Federal Commission on School Safety to rescind national school guidance originally created to address inequities in school discipline that disproportionately affect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) students, students of color, students with disabilities, and students at the intersections of these identities.
The Commission – which is chaired by Secretary DeVos and includes representatives from the Departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security – was charged with issuing a report on school safety. Instead, they have moved to make schools less safe for the most marginalized students. While today’s decision does not change federal anti-discrimination law, and students remain protected based on race, ethnicity, sex, and disability, it sends a clear message that the Department of Education under Secretary DeVos is unwilling to enforce federal civil rights laws on behalf of all students.
“This is yet another dangerous step in this administration’s ongoing efforts to eviscerate critical civil rights protections in our schools. By undoing guidance designed to improve school climate and support our most vulnerable students, the Commission is both dismantling effective policy and failing to address the issue of school safety,” said Eliza Byard, Executive Director of GLSEN. “Early in her tenure, Secretary DeVos asked to be judged on her actions, and as advocates for LGBTQ issues in education, we have been monitoring her closely. Based on her actions so far and those of the Federal Commission on School Safety today, we must ask: what would she have us say about her willingness to ignore the systemic impact of racism, bias, and inequality in our schools?”
“Students of color, particularly Black students, disproportionately experience exclusionary discipline practices – including suspensions and expulsions – that take them away from the places they are supposed to learn and develop and, too often, place them on school-to-prison and school-to-sex-trafficking pathways. This problem is compounded for LGBTQ students of color who often are often unfairly targeted by punitive school policies as a result of their intersectional identities,” said David J. Johns, National Black Justice Coalition Executive Director. “It is impossible to support the cognitive, social, and emotional learning and development of students when students face additional stress from policies or practices that target and demonize who they are and how they show up. The Department’s guidance will only serve to set us back as a nation, ensuring that the majority of the nation’s public school students are locked out of opportunities to develop the skills, credentials, and relationships necessary to succeed in the global 21st-century labor-market or ensure our national security. Our children and our country deserve better.”
"Transgender students are often disciplined more harshly than their peers, sometimes with damaging effects. Such practices drive too many transgender youth from school to jail – especially transgender students of color. The 2014 guidance has helped schools do the right thing for these students and set a standard of acceptance and inclusivity for all students. The Department of Education's own officials have admitted that withdrawing it is needless and harmful. We would add it is also heartless,” said Harper Jean Tobin, Director of Policy for NCTE.
“In my experience as a dropout recovery educator—and the parent of a transgender person—I know that rolling back guidelines implemented to protect marginalized students will only marginalize them further,” said PFLAG National board member Marsha Aizumi. "In fact, harsh, unfair, discriminatory discipline practices hurt the very people we are aiming to help. Every time a student who is harassed or bullied is disciplined along with the students who were actually doing the harassing, they become further victimized. In order to be successful, youth of color and LGBTQ+ youth need to believe that they have people championing them, valuing them and respecting them, not discriminating against them. This is the only way we can give marginalized students the hope they need to get through and thrive."
GLSEN Research provides evidence that LGBTQ students are disproportionately subjected to harsh and exclusionary school discipline practices. In 2015, almost two thirds (62.8%) of LGBTQ students had experienced some form of discipline, such as principal referrals, detention, in-school or out-of-school suspension, or expulsion, compared to less than half (45.8%) of non-LGBTQ students.
These experiences are exacerbated for LGBTQ students of color who are more significantly impacted by these practices, with 46.7% of Black/African American LGBTQ students, 44.1% of Hispanic/Latinx LGBTQ students, and 47.3% of multiracial LGBTQ students facing detention, suspension, or expulsion discipline in 2013, compared to 36.3% of white LGBTQ students surveyed. Similarly, 47.8% of disabled LGBTQ students reported experiencing school discipline compared to 36.9% of students who did not report a disability.2
Such unjust school discipline practice for marginalized students can lead to involvement with the juvenile justice system or homelessness. GLSEN Reseach found that 54% of LGBTQ students who reported being homeless also reported experiencing some type of school discipline. The consequences of exclusionary school discipline practices can be devastating, especially for students who may already face marginalization in school, their communities, and even within their families. Students lose critical instruction time and fall further behind in school, and too often are pushed out of school altogether.
Should the Commission’s recommendation to rescind the guidance be adopted, this would be just the latest in a series of disturbing actions by the Department of Education under Secretary DeVos, which include rolling back protections for transgender students and narrowing of the definition of sexual harassment under Title IX that would allow schools to ignore all but the worst cases of sexual harassment.
Sue Yacka-Bible, Senior Media Relations Manager, GLSEN
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Gillian Branstetter, Media Relations Manager, NCTE
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Liz Owen, Director of Communications, PFLAG National
Kawana Lloyd, National Black Justice Coalition
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GLSEN works to create safe and inclusive schools for all. We envision a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression. Each year, GLSEN programs and resources reach millions of students and educators in K-12 schools, via action at the national, state, and local level. Over nearly three decades of work, GLSEN has measurably improved conditions for LGBTQ students across the United States and launched an international movement to address LGBTQ issues in education and promote respect for all in schools. Find more information on GLSEN’s policy advocacy, student leadership initiatives, school-based programs, research, and professional development for educators at www.glsen.org.
The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS. NBJC's mission is to end racism, homophobia, and LGBTQ/SGL bias and stigma. As America’s leading national Black LGBTQ/SGL civil rights organization focused on federal public policy, NBJC has accepted the charge to lead Black families in strengthening the bonds and bridging the gaps between the movements for racial justice and LGBTQ/SGL equality.
The National Center for Transgender Equality is the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning life-saving change for transgender people. NCTE was founded in 2003 by transgender activists who recognized the urgent need for policy change to advance transgender equality. With a committed board of directors, a volunteer staff of one, and donated office space, we set out to accomplish what no one had yet done: provide a powerful transgender advocacy presence in Washington, D.C. Today, NCTE has grown to a staff of 17 and works at the local, state, and federal level to change laws, policies, and society. Download NCTE's brochure here.
PFLAG is the nation’s first and largest organization for LGBTQ+ people, their families, and allies. PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education, and advocacy, and has 400+ chapters and 200,000 members and supporters crossing multiple generations of American families in major urban centers, small cities, and rural areas across America. To learn more, visit pflag.org, like us on Facebook (/pflag), or follow us on Twitter (@pflag) or Instagram (@pflagnational).