Federal Education School Safety Notes

Hans Bader:

The highlighted passages were highlighted by Professor Russell Skiba, in an attachment to his May 28, 2021 2:25 AM email to Carolyn Seugling of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and James Eichner of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The Education Department sought out Skiba’s advice.

Skiba notes that the School Safety Commission report is “highlighted with a corresponding comment” from Skiba at various places. But the Education Department failed to turn over Skiba’s comments along with the highlighted text it corresponds to, so what Skiba said in response to these passages of the School Safety Commission report is an enigma. (In withholding these comments, the Education Department violated FOIA, perhaps inadvertently. Yesterday, I asked it to turn over the comments, but have gotten no response yet.).

Skiba does not appear to have taken issue with the passage saying that “research studies reveal that black youth, in comparison with their white counterparts, are … disproportionately involved in delinquency and crime … and are more likely to behave in ways that interfere with classroom and school functioning.” Skiba has taken issue with the idea that the racial gap in suspensions is “completely accounted” for by racial differences in behavior.

But Skiba himself does not claim that “students of color as a whole” have the exact same rate of misbehavior as whites, in the emails produced by the Education Department. Indeed, in his remarks at a May 11 Education Department event, Skiba admitted that rates of student misbehavior play a role in racial disparities in school discipline rates (although he argued that rates of student misbehavior were not among the top two factors driving such disparities. He argued on May 11 that racial disparities in discipline rates are caused more by other factors, such as school-to-school differences in discipline policy (such as harsher discipline at high-poverty, heavily non-white schools), and racial bias.

Moreover, Skiba’s email approvingly encloses an academic article that undercuts the idea that “students of color as a whole” have exactly the same misconduct rate as their white peers. (See Welsh & Little, The School Discipline Dilemma, 88 Review of Educational Research 752 (2018)).

That article states: