Lawmaker: Change To Federal School Discipline Guidance Won't Impact Indiana

Jan 2, 2019

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently rolled back Obama-era guidance aimed at preventing schools from disciplining students of color more harshly than their peers, but at least one lawmaker says it likely won’t affect efforts on the issue in the state.

Indiana’s General Assembly passed a law during the 2018 session to move schools away from out of school suspensions, and limit the use of law enforcement in school discipline. Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) worked on the legislation with House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis).

Porter calls the federal change dangerous for students of color, but, he says, Indiana’s progress on the issue won’t be limited.

“We should not – and I don’t think we will be – discouraged or be sidetracked by the antics that are transpiring at the national level,” he says.

The now-revoked federal guidance suggested schools could be liable for civil rights violations if their discipline practices harm students of color more so than their peers. Critics say it prevented schools and classroom teachers from the autonomy they need on discipline matters.

But Porter says teachers need more training in cultural competency to avoid unnecessarily harsh discipline that puts kids in the school-to-prison pipeline.

“If we continue to suspend students, put them out of school, put them on the streets, what we’re doing is adding to the pipeline to prison,” he says.

Porter says he also plans to file a bill this year to ensure another person remains in the room during interrogations between law enforcement and students, especially as more schools focus on school safety.