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Soon after the guidelines were released, civil rights groups praised the administration for tackling a controversial and complex problem in the American education system.

“All children deserve access to a quality education, but too often children of color are pushed out of the classroom through the overuse of harsh school disciplinary policies, despite federal law that protects them,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights advocacy organization.

Local school districts also conceded that disparities in discipline remain a problem.

“The representation of African-American students who receive discretionary suspension is far greater than the overall percentage of students,” said Dana Tofig, spokesman for the Montgomery County School District.

“Discretionary suspension,” Mr. Tofig said, refers to disciplinary action decided by school officials on a case-by-case basis. Some actions, such as bringing a gun to school, result in mandatory suspensions that do not differ from case to case.

But the administration’s move Wednesday is not needed to deal with individual black and white students being punished differently and makes sense as a back-door way to require group equality, Mr. Dunn said.

Students who can prove discrimination — such as a black student being suspended for an offense while a white student is given detention for doing the same thing — already have legal recourse and can sue, he said.

“That’s just discrimination. Local school districts want to avoid those circumstances. You don’t need these guidelines to deal with those kinds of problems,” Mr. Dunn said.