Read a PDF of our statement here.

LDF Submits Testimony for U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Hearing on the School-to-Prison Pipeline

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) submitted written testimony in support of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ (USCCR) investigation of school districts’ compliance with federal civil rights laws created to protect students of color with disabilities from discriminatory disciplinary actions. The testimony was submitted ahead of today’s USCCR’s briefing: The School-to-Prison Pipeline: The Intersections of Students of Color with Disabilities.

“Students of color with disabilities face unfair and disproportionate discipline in our nation’s schools, and we urge the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ to recommend federal policies that will ensure that the U.S. Department of Education and school districts do everything in their power to address violations of federal civil rights laws,” said Monique Dixon, Deputy Director of Policy and Senior Counsel at LDF. “There should be no greater priority for the Department of Education than to help protect the civil rights of students and keep schools safe. Now more than ever, the Department of Education should maintain and expand upon resources that help schools do both, rather than leaving schools to confront these formidable challenges alone.”

The USCCR briefing will focus on students of color with disabilities and how unfair discipline practices impede these students’ academic achievement. During the Obama Administration, the U.S. Department of Education released a number of guidance documents and regulations aimed at addressing inequality in our nation’s schools, including the disproportionate impact of school discipline practices on students of color, as well as disparities in the identification, placement, and discipline of students of color with disabilities. Media reports indicate that high-ranking Department of Education officials recently met with a group of individuals interested in rescinding the school discipline guidance. The Department is also reportedly considering delaying or amending regulations intended to address racial disparities in special education. LDF strongly urges the Department to maintain both the school discipline guidance and to enforce the regulations regarding significant disproportionality in special education.

LDF’s testimony encourages the USCCR to review and promote federal policies and laws that:

1)    Continue and expand national civil rights data collection on school discipline practices to document and address disproportionate discipline rates of students with disabilities;

2)    Maintain the Departments of Justice and Education dear colleague letter on the nondiscriminatory administration of school discipline;

3)    Ensure the appropriate use of systemic investigations to address disparities in school discipline;

4)    Maintain and immediately implement significant disproportionality regulations under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; and

5)    Ensure adequate federal oversight of state plans created under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

As LDF’s testimony notes, the USCCR’s briefing comes at a crucial time. Despite the passage of federal laws that prohibit schools from engaging in discrimination based on race and disability, students of color with disabilities are frequently disciplined at dramatically disproportionate rates.  According to the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection for the 2013-2014 school year, one in four Black boys with disabilities received at least one out-of-school suspension, compared to only one in ten White boys with disabilities. Given the extent of the problem, LDF’s testimony calls on the Department of Education to continue and expand upon efforts to drastically reduce these disparities for students of color with disabilities.

LDF’s testimony was submitted a week after releasing a new report titled, “Locked Out of the Classroom: How Implicit Bias Contributes to Disparities in School Discipline.” The report not only explains the ways in which implicit bias – subtle, subconscious beliefs about race – held by teachers, administrators, and school resource officers leads to the over-disciplining of students of color, but offers a range of recently developed interventions that have been effective in limiting the harmful effects of implicit bias.

Read LDF’s written testimony here.


Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.