Fox News joined other right-wing media and misrepresented new federal guidelines designed to reduce the disproportionate number of minority students who are unfairly suspended, expelled, or arrested for disruptive behavior in school.
On January 8, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice issued new guidelines to help public schools "administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin." The guidelines, which are not mandatory, are in response to statistics and analyses that suggest that students of color are significantly more likely to be punished than their similarly-situated white classmates. This means that students who are already disadvantaged will lose out on crucial school time not only due to unfairly punitive disciplinary measures, like suspension, expulsion, or even arrest, but unfortunately due to racial discrimination as well.
In a January 13 segment on The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly and her "Power Panel" agreed that "zero tolerance" policies are overbroad and ineffective. But Kelly still erroneously insisted that kids "cannot be suspended" under the new guidelines and that they "suggest[ed] punishment should be based on race. " Her panelists, who included both a Fox legal analyst and a blogger for the right-wing Washington Free Beacon, agreed, arguing that the guidelines are "handcuffing our educators" and inappropriately "bringing race into it":
Despite the panel's skepticism on the government's unsurprising involvement in promulgating the guidelines under decades-old legal authority, all seem to agree with the DOJ's salient point: zero tolerance policies are overbroad and ineffective. The DOJ's guidelines point out that zero tolerance policies disproportionately result in minority students being unfairly and excessively punished, a clear violation of multiple civil rights statutes. "Bringing race into it" isn't a distraction, as panelist Michael Moynihan of The Daily Beast suggests -- it's necessary to determine whether federal law has been violated because it is illegal for public schools receiving federal funding to discriminate against students based on race.
The fact that police officers are a common sight on school campuses, and are more frequently involved in routine disciplinary matters, has contributed to the singling out of minority students. Schools have increasingly relied on "school resource officers" (SROs) -- actual, armed police officers -- to handle disciplinary issues that arise among students. This has created what's known as the "school-to-prison pipeline." Unsurprisingly, students at schools that employ SROs are far more likely to be arrested on campus than other students, even for minor and nonviolent infractions like "wearing the wrong color socks." As the American Civil Liberties Union points out, minority students are "particularly likely" to find themselves in this pipeline, even if they're engaged in the same type of behavior as white classmates (emphasis original):
Students pushed along the pipeline find themselves in juvenile detention facilities, many of which provide few, if any, educational services. Students of color -- who are far more likely than their white peers to be suspended, expelled, or arrested for the same kind of conduct at school -- and those with disabilities are particularly likely to travel down this pipeline.
Though many students are propelled down the pipeline from school to jail, it is difficult for them to make the journey in reverse. Students who enter the juvenile justice system face many barriers to their re-entry into traditional schools. The vast majority of these students never graduate from high school.
Kelly's insistence that administrators will be unable to mete out appropriate discipline ignores the plain text of the guidelines, which actually advocate for more common sense measures on the part of principals and staff. Currently, without these guidelines, nearly half of all black males will be arrested by the time they turn 23.
Kelly wasn't the only right-wing media figure to attack the new guidelines. National Review Online railed against the "disturbing" guidelines, and Fox Nation changed the headline on an otherwise straightforward Associated Press article to this:
This absurd "race card" accusation ignores the fact that minorities are at a provable disadvantage when it comes to school punishment. But as far as right-wing media are concerned, public schools' freedom to send disruptive kids to jail -- even if done in a racially discriminatory fashion -- is more important than fairness.