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Government recommends end to overly zealous discipline in schools

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration is urging schools to abandon overly zealous discipline polices.

Civil rights advocates have said those policies lead to a school-to-prison pipeline that discriminates against minority students.

The guidelines issued today, in essence, tell schools that they have to adhere to the principle of fairness and equity in student discipline -- or they will face strong action if they don't.

The American Civil Liberties Union is calling the recommendations "ground-breaking."

Attorney General Eric Holder says a student who commits a "routine" infraction should end up "in the principal's office, not in a police precinct."

He says the problem often stems from well-intentioned "zero-tolerance" policies that he says too often bring in the criminal justice system. Those policies, which became popular in the 1990s, spell out defined and swift punishment for offences such as truancy, smoking or carrying a weapon. Violators can become saddled with a criminal record.

The administration says research indicates that racial disparities in how students are disciplined are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color. In a letter to school districts, officials say they've found cases "where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race."