Trenton – In an effort to address racial biases in school disciplinary practices, the Senate Education Committee advanced a package of bills sponsored by Committee Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Vin Gopal, which would improve school discipline practices and ensure more equitable enforcement.
“Systemic inequities exist throughout our education system and we must take a holistic approach to fully address them,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “To shrink the achievement gap we see here in New Jersey, we must first reduce the racial disparities we see in school discipline practices. Our students cannot learn if they are not in the classroom and the achievement gap is only compounded by the fact that Black and Brown students are suspended at far higher rates than their white counterparts.”
The first bill, S-1018, would establish a task force to examine, evaluate and make recommendations on discipline policies and practices in New Jersey public schools. This would include any racial disparities in the implementation of those policies as well as their effectiveness.
“In recent years, we have seen increased coverage nationally on the discriminatory implementation of school disciplinary policies and unfortunately New Jersey is no exception,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “All too often our Black and Latinx students are more likely to be singled out by their teachers or face suspension. While there is no simple fix for this issue, this legislation will get us moving in the right direction.”
The second bill, S-1020, would require school districts and charter schools to report data on student expulsions, in-school suspensions and out-of-school suspensions to the Commissioner of Education on a monthly basis. The data would include students’ race, ethnicity, gender and eligibility for free or reduced-price meals.
In addition, school districts and charter schools would also be required to publish this data publicly on their website, in the form of an annual report.
A third bill, S-1154, would direct the Department of Education to develop school discipline guidelines to assist school districts and charter schools in enhancing school climate and improving school discipline policies. The guidelines would also work to ensure that discipline practices are applied in an equitable, non-discriminatory manner.
Under the bill, guidelines developed by the DOE would have to be consistent with the federal school discipline guidance package, including President Obama’s Dear Colleague Letter on the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline as well as the “Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline.”
The committee also advanced SR-24, which would urge the federal government to preserve the school discipline guidance package issued in 2014 by the United States Department of Education and the United States Department of Justice.
The bills were released from committee by votes of 6-0, 5-1 and 5-1, respectively.