Civil Rights and School Reform: Lessons from School Discipline
Danfeng Soto-Vigil Koon

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of California, Berkeley

Primary Discipline

Since Brown v. Board of Education Americans have looked to civil rights litigation and regulatory enforcement to address issues of social inequality. In particular, this prevailing faith has fueled expanding legal rights and procedures in public education. Yet, even as schools have become increasingly legalized over the past half century, racial inequalities persist as an unbroken feature of American schooling. Existing explanations for the persistence of inequality in the face of legal attempts to address it tend to focus on the resistance of local actors (i.e., teachers, principals, or parents) to legally mandated change.Taking an institutional approach instead, this in-depth qualitative case study examines how the institution of law interacts with the institutional context of urban education to enable and constrain the implementation efforts of school district administrators, lawyers, and principals who largely welcomed a U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR)’s agreement to address racially disproportionate school discipline. This case provides a unique opportunity to study civil rights intervention in schools when explicit local resistance is low, allowing us to better understand the possibilities and limits of law as a driver of institutional change.
About Danfeng Soto-Vigil Koon
Danfeng is a lawyer and doctoral candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research focuses on the role of law in public education and its potential and challenges for addressing social inequality. Danfeng has served as a Research Fellow at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute for Law and Social Policy, the Chief Editor of the Berkeley Review of Education, and a founding teacher of June Jordan School for Equity. Danfeng holds a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law, an Ed.M. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a B.A. in Economics and Biology from UC Berkeley.

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