Leading Educators Urge Betsy DeVos to Keep School Discipline Guidance that Protects Children of Color

Sep 12, 2018

September 12, 2018  

For Immediate Release 
Contact: Miriam Rollin, mrollin@youthlaw.org, (202) 868-4783, Twitter: @Ed_CivilRights 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A distinguished and diverse group of educators has written U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to express support for the School Discipline Guidance Package issued by the Education Department and Department of Justice in 2014, and to urge the Secretary not to rescind or weaken it. The signatories to the letter are members of the newly formed Leading Educator Ambassadors for Equity (LEAE) of the Education Civil Rights Alliance (ECRA). The letter contends that rescinding the guidance will “place our students in greater danger of having their education civil rights violated, as we have already seen time and again in our schools and communities.”  

The letter to Secretary DeVos relates the story of Jason, a five-year old Kindergarten student, was suspended under a zero tolerance strict discipline policy, for bumping into a friend at recess. More disheartening was that the children in his classroom who displayed similar behavior, but who were not of color, were disciplined differently than he was. As a matter of fact, in Jason’s school, students of color were 4 times more likely to be suspended than those who were not.  

The letter is being released at the start of the new school year, in conjunction with the launch of the LEAE initiative. LEAE is comprised of leading, award-winning educators from across the nation. The thirteen members of LEAE, which includes two Global Teacher Prize finalists, ten State Teachers of the Year and Sydney Chafee, 2017 National Teacher of the Year, have pledged to use their platforms to educate other educators, as well as policymakers and the public, on education equity and the civil rights of students.  

Kelisa Wing, the DoDEA State Teacher of the Year, spoke of the importance of the new initiative. “As a member of ECRA: LEAE, I am committed to being a voice for the voiceless, holding others accountable, and speaking the truth in love in order to ensure equitable opportunities for our most precious resource – our children!”  

According to Chaffee “All of our students deserve access to equitable, empowering learning experiences. That is their civil right–and their human right. I’m honored to join this group of teacher leaders to advocate for education.” 

Gloria Pereyra-Robertson is Oregon 2017 State Teacher of the Year. She says providing an equitable and culturally responsive education matters. “Because it has the power to disrupt poverty and to change the fate of a family in just one generation. This is serious and life changing work that I am honored to do, and I have the privilege to learn and work with an elite group of teacher leaders who will serve ECRA: LEAE to create windows of opportunity to demonstrate and teach about this form of educational system which will build a better and stronger society for our country.” 

Former Texas Teacher of the Year Monica Washington added “One goal of public education is to meet the needs of students regardless of background or socioeconomic status.  The work of LEAE is especially important because our goal is to ensure that those who make policies regarding public education keep issues of education equity at the forefront of their work.”  

In their letter to Secretary DeVos, the LEAE members reject any attempts to link the school discipline guidance to recent school shootings as dangerous and irresponsible. The Educator ambassadors have asked the Secretary for a meeting to share their ideas on how to protect students’ education civil rights and advance education equity. 

A copy of the letter can be found here.  Additional comments from LEAE members are available here.


About the Education Civil Rights Alliance
The Education Civil Rights Alliance is a diverse and experienced group of organizers, educator organizations, community groups, professional associations, and civil rights organizations that are committed to promoting education equity and protecting the civil rights of marginalized students.  

The National Center for Youth Law is the convener of the Education Civil Rights Alliance. 

For more information visit edrights.org 

About the Leading Educator Ambassadors for Equity

Brett Bigham is the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year the only Oregon special education teacher to be named Teacher of the Year and to win the NEA National Award for Teaching Excellence.  In 2015 he was given the NEA LGBT Teacher Role Model Award. He is the creator of Ability Guidebooks, a series of support books for people with autism that give step-by-step directions how to visit cultural landmarks and social events. He is president of ORSTOY, the Oregon chapter of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and serves on the boards of Oregon Safe Schools and Clubfunder.Org. 

Sydney Chaffee is a National Board-Certified Teacher who believes that education is an essential tool to work towards social justice. Since 2007, Sydney has been the ninth grade Humanities teacher at Codman Academy Charter Public School. Sydney was 2017 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and 2017 National Teacher of the Year, enabling her to speak to a wider audience about the possibilities of integrating arts education into traditional academic disciplines, the importance of teacher learning, and the role of education in social justice movements. 

Dr. Jemelleh Coes is Georgia’s 2014 Teacher of the Year and a 2015 Lowell Milken Fellow. She spent six years teaching English/language arts and math in both the general and special education setting.  She earned her Ph.D. in Educational Theory and Practice with certificates in Disability Studies and Education Law and Policy while serving as field instructor for teacher candidates at the University of Georgia.  She also serves as a teacher mentor for classroom teachers throughout Georgia. She is the daughter of immigrant parents from Guyana and a first-generation college graduate.  

Dr. Melissa Collins has been an elementary school teacher at John P. Freeman Optional School in Memphis for 19 years.  She was a Global Teacher Prize Finalist (Top 50) (2018), and is the recipient of: Queen Smith Award, Stephen Sondheim Award, Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the National Science Teaching Association Sylvia Shurgrue Award, and West Tennessee Teacher of the Year. She is a National Board-Certified Teacher, and is a 2018-19 Fellow of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. 

In her 17 years of teaching science, Megan Olivia Hall has worked with students of many ages and levels, from kindergarten to Advanced Placement.  She is a leader of her school’s social and emotional learning (SEL) program and facilitated the 2017 National SEL Fellowship for NEA and the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. A National Board-Certified Teacher and an NEA Foundation Global Fellow, Megan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Learning, Instruction, and Innovation at Walden University. 

Rick Joseph is a fifth and sixth grade National Board-Certified teacher at Covington School in Birmingham, Michigan.  He went into teaching to address racial disparities, was a bilingual teacher in Chicago for several years, and also works on safe/inclusive learning environments for LGBTQ students and immigrant students. 

Athanasia Kyriakakos, a renowned artist, teaches visual art at Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School.  She has been a Baltimore Teachers Union mentor and Union Learning Representative, and in 2015, a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Teacher Leaders program. Ms. Kyriakakos was 2016/17 Baltimore City Teacher of the Year, the 2017 Maryland State Teacher of the Year and one of four Finalists for the National TOY title. In 2018, she was awarded The Teachers for Global Classrooms fellowship from the State department and the Fulbright for Distinguished Teachers Award.  

Estella Owoimaha-Church was a Global Teacher Prize Finalist – Top 50 – in 2017) and recipient of CTA Equity & Human Rights: Peace and Justice Award (2018). She teaches theatre and English in South Los Angeles. Co-creator of EN-ACT, Estella seeks to support teachers in art integration, social justice education, and social emotional learning. The daughter of migrants, racial justice both compels and informs her practice. Estella is active with several community organizations, including Creative Visions, Media Done Responsibly, RFK Human Rights, and United Nations #TeachSDGs Taskforce.   

Tom Rademacher (Mr. Rad to his students) is an English teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2014 he was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He teaches writing and writes about teaching on his blog.  His book, published by University of Minnesota Press, is called “IT WON’T BE EASY: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching”. 

Gloria Pereyra-Robertson is Oregon 2017 State Teacher of the Year, OEA’s Presidential Citation Teacher of the Year, an NEA Teaching Excellence award winner, and a daughter of Mexican immigrants. She has dedicated over two decades to working in Title 1 schools, has taught in San Diego, CA, and is currently teaching kindergarten at Washington Elementary in Medford, OR.  Besides being a peer coach, mentor and cooperating teacher with SOU, Gloria is also an innovator who is currently working with Google to help find solutions to break down the language barriers for ELL students in the classroom.  

Monica Washington is an instructional coach for BetterLesson. Previously, she taught English III and AP English III at Texas High School in Texarkana where she served as department chair. She has been in education for 20 years and has taught grades 7-12. She has served as adjunct professor at LeMoyne-Owen College and Texarkana College.  Monica became Texas State Teacher of the Year in 2014. In addition, Monica is a 2015 Lowell Milken Center Fellow. She is also a 2015 NEA Foundation Global Fellow. 

Kelisa Wing is a Professional Development Specialist who previously served as an Assistant Principal, and an 8th grade English teacher. She is the 2017 DoDEA State Teacher of the Year, and a 2016 Association of Supervision, Curriculum, and Development (ASCD) Emerging Leader. She created a non-profit organization called #Squad Up for Education, Inc., to empower parents, students, and educators to commit to become partners in education. She also published a book called “Promises and Possibilities: Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline”.  

Dr. Maryann Woods-Murphy is a Gifted & Talented specialist in New Jersey and has taught for 38 years. She is also the 2010 NJ Teacher of the Year, the winner of the Martin Luther King Birthday Celebration Award, a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow, an America Achieves Fellow (2011-2015), and a member of the Board of the National Education Association Foundation and the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Woods-Murphy earned her Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership at Walden University. She has co-chaired Teens Talk about Racism for 18 years.