The Obama administration is issuing new guidance to schools in an effort to reduce the number of minorities and kids with disabilities who needlessly wind up in the hands of law enforcement.

Students with disabilities and those from minority groups are disproportionately suspended or expelled, often for petty violations of school rules, federal officials say. The new guidance developed by the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice is designed to ensure that discipline policies are fair, effective and do not violate students’ civil rights.

“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,” said Attorney General Eric Holder who called out “zero-tolerance” policies that can unintentionally make students feel unwelcome in their schools.

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“As it stands, far too many students across the country are diverted from the path to success by unnecessarily harsh discipline policies and practices that exclude them from school for minor infractions,” Holder said. “Alarming numbers of young people are suspended, expelled or even arrested for relatively minor transgressions like school uniform violations, schoolyard fights or showing ‘disrespect’ by laughing in class.”

Specifically, the guidance indicates that school personnel — not security staff or law enforcement officers — should be responsible for handling routine discipline. School staff should be trained on all disciplinary policies and there should be opportunities for students and parents to develop trusting relationships with security personnel, officials said.

Though children in special education represent just 12 percent of all the nation’s students, they account for roughly 20 percent of suspensions and expulsions and nearly a quarter of students experiencing school-related arrests, according to the federal guidance.

In addition to a “Dear Colleague” letter outlining the responsibilities schools have in administering discipline fairly, federal officials unveiled a resource directory to help schools develop better discipline policies. They also launched an online tool with information about applicable laws and regulations nationwide.

Additional resources specific to helping schools and teachers use appropriate discipline with students with disabilities are also in the works, officials said.

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