McEachin & Spanberger Lead Letter Expressing Concern over Discriminatory Discipline Practices in Richmond Region Schools

Today, Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) and Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (VA-07) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos expressing concerns over a recent report from the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium (MERC) highlighting racial disparities in school discipline across the Richmond region. The lawmakers urge the Department of Education to review this report, along with other studies, as it works to uphold the law and enforce critical civil rights protections for our nation’s students.

“I am deeply concerned by the harmful and inequitable treatment of our nation’s students, including too many in my congressional district,” said Congressman A. Donald McEachin. “The racial disparities in school discipline across the Richmond region, highlighted in the MERC report, are unacceptable, and yet another example of why federal leadership is so desperately needed to protect the civil rights of our students. Despite well-documented injustices, the Department of Education, under the direction of this administration, has actively worked to weaken or eliminate critical civil rights protections for students. Instead of delaying implementation of important regulations and rescinding civil rights guidance, the administration should be improving school climate and culture to ensure that all students receive a safe, equitable, and high-quality education. Since coming to Congress, I have worked tirelessly to address the disproportionately high rates of discipline for students of color and students with disabilities within our public schools. I will not stop fighting until this administration demonstrates a serious commitment to protecting all of our nation’s students.”

“All students deserve equitable treatment in a safe and respectful learning environment. That’s why I’m disturbed by the recent report of discipline disparities in schools across the greater Richmond area—including in the Seventh District,” said Congresswoman Spanberger. “As Congressman McEachin and I have outlined in our letter to Secretary DeVos, the administration must review this report, because we need to understand the root causes of this unacceptable situation, push back against discrimination, and provide our school administrators with the resources and guidance they need to close this exclusionary discipline gap. In light of this report, we need to redouble our commitment to fostering conditions in our Central Virginia schools that allow our students to reach their greatest potential, obtain their degrees, and gain greater opportunities as they pursue careers. I look forward to Secretary DeVos’ response—and I’ll keep fighting alongside Congressman McEachin to reduce practices that harm the success of our region’s students.”

According to the MERC report, African-American students made up less than a quarter of total enrollment in 2016, but more than half of all short- and long-term suspensions and expulsions – often for subjective interpretations of behavior such as disobedience or loitering. Despite the well-documented disparities identified in the MERC report and other reports, the Department of Education has taken several steps since 2017 to eliminate or weaken important civil rights protections and safeguards for students, including rescinding the 2014 Dear Colleague Letter on the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline (“2014 Guidance”), and delaying implementation of the Equity in IDEA regulations regarding significant disproportionality in special education.

“In order to help schools meet their legal obligations, the Department should take every available step to provide school districts with the resources, guidance, training, and support necessary to ensure nondiscriminatory discipline in schools,” wrote the lawmakers. “This includes improving access to the Civil Rights Data Collection, as well as incentivizing proactive measures, such as positive behavioral interventions and supports, multi-tiered systems of support, trauma-informed care, culturally-responsive teaching, and implicit bias training, that will reduce exclusionary and aversive discipline practices. If implemented correctly, these steps can help improve school climate and culture and ensure students receive a safe, equitable, and high-quality education.”

Since his time in the Virginia General Assembly, Congressman McEachin has been a champion for protecting the civil rights of all students. The Congressman has led multiple letters on these important issues, including in defense of the 2014 Guidance and in support of maintaining and enforcing the 2016 Equity in IDEA regulations.