A comprehensive guidance document on preventing discrimination in school discipline that was developed by New Jersey’s Division on Civil Rights in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Education provides information to ensure that student codes of conduct and discipline policies do not discriminate, either intentionally or unintentionally, on the basis of a protected characteristic.

The document explains how the DCR applies the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to student discipline, with a particular focus on discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation and disability. It further explains what school administrators should do to ensure that their discipline policies and practices comply with the Law Against Discrimination and educates students, faculty, staff and families on its protections against discrimination in school discipline.

The guidance document was developed in response to the recommendations of the Interagency Task Force to Combat Youth Bias in its 2020 report, “An Anti-Bias Vision for the Next Generation.” 

“In New Jersey – and across the nation – there have been and continue to be undeniable disparities when it comes to school discipline,” said state Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “The guidance we are releasing today makes clear that from kindergarten to high school classrooms, Latinx/e and Black students face disproportionate discipline for the same actions committed by their white peers. And nationally, LGBTQ+ students are nearly twice as likely to be suspended from school as non-LGBTQ+ students. These disparities are unacceptable and should alarm us all. Our new guidance provides schools with additional resources to eliminate discrimination and bias and will help ensure greater equity for all New Jersey students.”

“As we introduce the guide for addressing discrimination in school discipline, we embark on a transformative journey towards a more just and equitable educational landscape,” said Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting commissioner of education. “This comprehensive resource equips schools across New Jersey with the tools to meticulously examine and rectify any discriminatory practices within their disciplinary processes. By erasing the potential for bias, intentional or not, based on protected characteristics, we reaffirm our dedication to fostering an atmosphere that nurtures diversity and fosters understanding.”

The guidance reminds school and district officials that they have a duty to ensure full compliance with the Law Against Discrimination. The guidance also empowers students, parents and caregivers by explaining the legal protections the Law Against Discrimination provides for students, and by offering concrete examples of how the law applies to common disciplinary scenarios from which disparities can arise.

Several one-pagers and other summary resources accompany the guidance document, including:

The guidance also provides recommendations for school administrators to ensure that students are not subjected to discriminatory disciplinary actions. Among other recommendations:

  • School administrators should review – and potentially revise – their discipline policies and practices to ensure compliance with the Law Against Discrimination.
  • School administrators should collect, monitor and review all disciplinary data to identify disparities based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and disability.
  • Schools should fully investigate allegations related to possible disparate discipline, including allegations that those with the authority to discipline have engaged in bias-based behavior.
  • Schools should solicit feedback from students, parents, employees and the community about discipline disparities and school climate.
  • All employees responsible for disciplining students should be required to receive non-discrimination training.

The guidance is part of a series of resources and initiatives that the DCR, the NJDOE and other partner agencies from the Interagency Task Force to Combat Youth Bias have released in recent months. In February 2023, DCR partnered with the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education to develop the “Addressing Bias Incidents on Campus” resource guide. In May 2023, DCR and DOE issued the “Addressing Bias in K-12 Schools” resource guide. Both guides highlight key state resources and actions dedicated to achieving the goal of creating safer learning environments.

Learn more in the full news release.