United Nations Forum on Minority Issues
Minorities and the Right to Education
Testimony of Dennis D. Parker
Director, Racial Justice Program
American Civil Liberties Union
December 15, 2008
Good afternoon. I am Dennis Parker and I am the Director of the Racial Justice Program of the
American Civil Liberties Union. I would like to thank this Forum – and Gay McDougall – for
the recognition of the vital importance of access to equal educational opportunity and for the
thorough and thoughtful draft recommendations on minorities and the right to education. I am
particularly grateful for the opportunity to appear on behalf of the American Civil Liberties
Union to share suggestions derived from our work in the area of education in the United States,
work which we believe is relevant to efforts to ensure fairness and equality in education
worldwide.
The ACLU has fought to defend and preserve the rights of individuals under the laws and
Constitution of the United States for nearly a century. Our submission to this body, Minority
Access to Education and in the United States: Recent Developments and Recommendations,
recounts much of that work along with a description of threats to equal opportunity in education
which still persist in the United States. I would like to concentrate briefly on one of the topics
outlined in the submission: that is the effect of abusive and unfair disciplinary practices on access
to equal educational opportunity for students of color.
The draft recommendation’s section on “Equal Access to Quality Education for Minorities”
along with the section on “The Learning Environment” properly highlight the importance of
meaningful access to educational services as well as the central importance of maintaining a
positive learning environment. We submit that a variety of abusive disciplinary actions and
policies undermine access to schools and poison the learning environment for too many students
of color in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
These abusive practices range from outright discrimination, in which African American, Latino,
Native American and other students of color are subjected to different punishment than white
students for engaging in the same behavior, to policies which appear race-neutral but whose
application is felt more harshly by minority students. The latter includes “zero tolerance” policies,
which broadly impose draconian punishment, to the inappropriate use of police in schools,
which often has the effect of criminalizing conduct which would previously have been dealt with
more appropriately wholly within the four walls of the classroom. Likewise, corporal
punishment, still widely used in a number of states in the U.S., appears to be inflicted
disproportionately against students of color, is counter to international legal standards and
adversely affects the learning environment for all children whether or not they are recipients of
the actual punishment.

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