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Disparities in K-12 Discipline

Level: Advanced
Runtime: 77 minutes
Recorded Date: December 09, 2019
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• Brief Legal Framework 
• Overview of Documents:
        - 2014 DOE and DOJ Joint "Dear Colleague" Letter on the Nondiscriminatory                   Administration of School Discipline
        - 2018 Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety, Chapter 8, " The                 Obama Administration's "Rethink School Discipline" Guidance
• First Impressions
• Views from the School Board and the Field
• Best Practices
• Final Thoughts
• Q & A

Runtime: 1 hour, 17 minutes
Recorded: December 9, 2019


On January 8, 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance designed to assist elementary and secondary institutions in meeting their obligations under federal law to “administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin.” In essence, the guidance places educational institutions on notice that if they enforced intentionally discriminatory rules or of their policies lead to disproportionately higher rates of discipline for student in one racial group, even if the policies were written without discriminatory intent.

On December 18, 2018, the Federal Commission on School Safety, led by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, recommended that the discipline guidance issued in 2014 be rescinded by the Department of Education. In a statement regarding the decision, DeVos stated that the decision to rescind “makes it clear that discipline is a matter on which classroom teachers and local school leaders deserve and need autonomy.” Given this turn in the Department of Education’s view on this matter, the question becomes: how do educational institutions work to ensure that their disciplinary processes are administered in such a way that they do not disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities?

In this program, the speakers will provide an overview of the rescinded disciplinary guidance issued by the Department of Education in 2014. Speakers will explain, from their unique perspectives as a member of the board of education for a large school district, civil rights attorney, and educational advocate, the impact of the decision to roll back the guidance.

The panel will also explore how the administration of disciplinary processes in education could serve as another example of implicit bias that works to contribute to the school to prison pipeline. Join our experienced panelists as they explain the Department of Education guidance on how to administer student discipline without discriminating.

This program was recorded on December 9, 2019.

Provided By

American Bar Association
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Alex M. Johnson

Program Director
The California Wellness Foundation

Alex M. Johnson is a program director at The California Wellness Foundation, where he manages grantmaking related to preventing violence and strengthening community clinics. His responsibilities include reviewing letters of interest, requesting and evaluating grant proposals, conducting site visits, making funding recommendations and monitoring active grants.

Prior to joining Cal Wellness in June 2018, Johnson was managing director for Californians for Safety and Justice in Los Angeles. While at CSJ, Johnson led efforts calling for an end to over-incarceration and a renewed focus on safety priorities rooted in prevention and health. Prior to his role at CSJ, he was executive director of Children’s Defense Fund-California, where he led statewide advocacy, policy, program and organizing efforts to ensure access to quality affordable health coverage and care for children and low-income families, reform the juvenile justice system, promote educational equity, end child poverty, and improve outcomes for children of color.

He is a current member, and past president, of the Los Angeles County Board of Education. Alex previously served on the California Complete Count Committee and the California Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board as an appointee of Governor Jerrry Brown. Alex has also worked for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas where he helped lead policy and programmatic efforts focused on education and public safety.

Johnson served as an attorney for the New York City Department of Education where he managed complex civil litigation and special disciplinary proceedings as part of a quality initiative to improve academic outcomes for K-12 students. Prior to that, he was an assistant district attorney for the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Morehouse College in Atlanta, and his law degree from American University, Washington College of Law.

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Abre' Conner

Staff Attorney
ACLU of Northern California

Abre’ Conner is a staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, where she advocates for the civil rights and civil liberties of people in the Central Valley.

Abre’ works on a variety of issues including freedom of speech, education, racial justice, voting rights, housing, and environmental justice. Recently, she filed a federal administrative class complaint on behalf of Black students in Visalia that alleges racial harassment and disparate discipline in the District. She also authored a state-wide report that detailed ways advocates can push for better school district funding allocations for high-need students across the state of California. She also leads litigation to stop the City of Sacramento from criminalizing homeless. She represented students in Vacaville Unified School District to ensure they kept their Black Lives Matter content in a yearbook. And she represented a Central Valley coalition and drafted comments that helped strengthen pesticide regulations near schools by the California Department of Pesticide Regulations. In People of The State of California vs. Calwa Varrio Locos, she drafted an amicus brief and represented the rights of gang members in hearings that helped shape better policies for those who would be enjoined in a gang injunction.

She led advocacy and organized Gay-Straight Alliance Network student leaders, parents and concerned community members to end Clovis Unified School District’s unlawful dress code, which banned long hair, earrings, and dresses for male students, “exotic clothing and makeup,” and hairstyles that “cause undue attention.” Additionally, she led advocacy for better housing policies in Fresno when the city introduced a discriminatory nuisance ordinance that allowed the city to cite individuals up to $50,000 for “domestic disturbance” calls to the police. Working with cities, including Stockton, she led advocacy to remove a discriminatory voting system.

Prior to joining the ACLU-NC as a staff attorney, Abre’ was a staff attorney in Delano, California, at the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment (CRPE) where her advocacy portfolio included air quality, fracking, civil rights, and sustainable community development. Earlier she was a J.D. Distinguished Fellow at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Washington, D.C., where she assisted in federal civil rights legislation coordination and a variety of civil rights cases. Before her fellowship in 2012, she offered legal and policy support to residents in Harlem, New York, at West Harlem Environmental Action (WE-ACT) regarding housing and superfund residential leases. She has interned with personnel and committee offices of the U.S. House and Senate in Florida and in Washington, D.C. She worked with the U.S. Department of Education in the Equal Employment Opportunity Services, the Office for Civil Rights, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. She was also an associate in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel in 2012.

Abre’ earned her law degree at American University Washington College of Law and undergraduate degrees from the University of Florida. She has been named as a top 40 under 40 lawyer by On Being a Black Lawyer, top 100 Black professionals by the Fresno Black Chamber of Commerce, Building Healthy Communities’ “Community Champion” awardee, featured in Zeta Phi Beta’s national magazine, New York Times’ The Daily, and in Cosmopolitan Magazine.

She is currently the Northern California District Representative and Public Education Chair for the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, board member for Central California Legal Services, past General Counsel for the National Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, and the Northern California Social Action Coordinator for Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated.

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Daiquiri Steele

Forrester Fellow
Tulane University Law School

Steele joins Tulane from the University of Alabama School of Law, where she served as chief diversity officer for the law school and taught Employment Discrimination, Education Law, Equal Educational Opportunity, and Legislation & Regulation. She formerly served as a Civil Rights Attorney with the U.S. Department of Education, where she provided legal counsel relating to federal investigations of discrimination involving the nation’s school districts, colleges, universities, and state educational agencies. She also served as a mediator for civil rights claims. She previously worked for the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, where she assessed federal contractors’ compliance with employment discrimination laws.

Professor Steele serves as a member of the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on the Future of Legal Education, ABA Standing Committee on Public Education, and Alabama State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She previously served as a Commissioner on the ABA Commission on Racial & Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. She has also served as Diversity Director for the ABA Young Lawyers Division, a member of the ABA Section of Labor & Employment Law, and Vice-Chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee for the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice. She is also the Assembly Speaker and Chief Policy Officer for the Young Lawyers Division.

Professor Steele previously served as the Georgia Young Lawyers Division Director of ABA Involvement, and is a graduate of the Georgia Young Lawyers Division Leadership Academy. In 2016, she received the Award of Achievement for Outstanding Service to the Profession by the State Bar of Georgia Young Lawyers Division. She also is a member of the National Bar Association, and a previous Co-Chair of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys Government Attorneys Section.

She graduated with Bachelors of Arts degrees in both Economics and Political Science from Spelman College where she was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society. She earned her Juris Doctor from the University of Georgia School of Law, her Masters degree in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University, and her Ph.D. in Business Administration from Hampton University.

Professor Steele has spoken at many national, state, and local conferences on a variety of topics, including federal equal employment opportunity laws, diversity in the legal profession, diversity pipeline programs, implicit bias, sexual harassment and sexual violence, the use of statistical analysis in disparate impact cases, cyber-bullying, and the responsibilities of post-secondary institutions concerning students with disabilities.

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Erika D. Robinson

Associate General Counsel
Shelby County Board of Education

Erika Robinson is the Associate General Counsel at the Shelby County Board of Education.

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