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U.S. acts to keep minority, disabled students out of jail

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[January 08, 2014]  WASHINGTON (Reuters)  The Justice and Education departments unveiled guidelines on Wednesday to prevent schools from violating civil rights laws and keep students out of jail after data found minorities and the disabled were more likely than others to face discipline or arrest.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the guidelines were aimed at giving direction to school law enforcement officers, protecting the civil rights of students, and keeping kids in the classroom.

"A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal's office, not in a police precinct," Holder said in a statement.

The guidelines came after the Justice Department sued Mississippi state and local officials in 2012 over what it called a "school-to-prison pipeline" that violated the rights of children, especially black and disabled youths.

The lawsuit contended that police in Meridian, Mississippi, routinely arrested suspended students even when they lacked probable cause to believe they had committed a crime.

The district agreed in March 2013 to change how it disciplined students.

The guidelines' principles call for improving school environments by training staff, engaging families and teaching students how to resolve conflicts.

They also urged schools to understand their obligations under civil rights laws, and the package outlines a host of federal resources regarding school discipline.

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In an accompanying letter, Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote that department data show black students were three times more likely than whites to be suspended or expelled.

Although students with disabilities make up 12 percent of U.S. students, they are 19 percent of students who are suspended and almost a quarter of those getting a school-related arrest.

Holder and Duncan were scheduled to lay out the new guidelines at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; editing by Daniel Trotta and Ken Wills)

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