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Former Minnesota teachers join discussion on federal school discipline policy

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Two Minnesota teachers who have been outspoken about student violence found an audience in top education officials at a meeting in Washington Friday.

Former Edina teacher Debbie York and former St. Paul teacher John Ekblad were among a group of Minnesota teachers and parents who met with officials from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights and other departments, according to Thomas B. Fordham Institute president Michael Petrilli. The Fordham Institute helped coordinate the meeting.

Both teachers have been outspoken critics of school discipline policies they see as overly permissive.

York resigned her post after she says a student injured her. Ekblad sued the St. Paul school district last year after a student punched and choked him, leaving Ekblad with a concussion and traumatic brain injury.  

Petrilli said York and Ekblad shared their stories at the meeting. 

School officials are watching to see whether how the Education Department under President Trump will deal with Obama-era guidance on school discipline from 2014. That guidance sparked debate with an assertion that school policies could be found in violation of federal civil rights law based on discriminatory effects, even if those policies are neutral on their face. Policies that have disproportionate impacts on students of color could be targeted, the guidance said.

Petrilli said he urged federal officials to rescind the guidance.

"A lot of us are concerned that, while it makes sense to reduce suspensions whenever possible, you've got to worry about the law of unintended consequences in terms of schools becoming unsafe and disorderly. And so you've got to figure out how to balance those two important values," Petrilli said.