Trump Administration Rescinds Anti-discriminatory School Discipline Policies

Today the Trump Administration announced it would rescind parts of the Obama administration’s “Rethink Discipline” school policies, policies that ensured that minority students were not unfairly targeted for harsher punishments or disciplinary practices.

The Trump Administration created the School Safety Commission, led by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, after the Parkland shooting. Instead of focusing on gun violence and gun control, the Commission targeted Obama era school discipline policies that protect minority students from discriminatory discipline practices, even though the Parkland shooter was a white male. The commission’s findings focus heavily on race and the idea that schools are more dangerous because of the federal scrutiny on school discipline.

The Obama Administration adopted the school discipline policies after research revealed that students of color receive more suspension and stricter disciplinary actions than white students that committed equal or worse offenses. Black students were three times as likely to be expelled or suspended and Black and Hispanic students made up more than half of all school related arrests and referrals. The research also found that disabled students were quickly placed into remedial or special-education programs, sometimes unnecessarily. This led the Obama Administration to conclude “more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color” could not be the sole explanation of the disparate discipline rates.

The Obama school discipline policies recommended nondiscriminatory discipline practices to schools and taught schools how to use data to find racial disparities. However, the commission argued to reject “disparate impact theory,” the idea that policies do affect certain racial groups differently, and to not use data to discern racial disparities in schools. Instead, the commission wrote that “when there is evidence beyond a mere statistical disparity that educational programs and policies may violate the federal prohibition on racial discrimination, this administration will act swiftly and decisively to investigate.”

The Parkland shooter was a white male, who had been expelled from school, and was referred to law enforcement multiple times prior to the shooting. The commission’s report did not highlight how the Obama Administration’s policy may have led to the Parkland shooting, or the multiple other school shootings in recent years. The commission wrote that “those who spoke in support of the guidance focused on reducing the racial disparities in the discipline numbers without addressing the adverse consequences on school safety and climate;” yet the report failed to acknowledge how removing protections for minority students would decrease or prevent school shootings.

Civil Rights organizations have already condemned the decision to rescind the Obama era school discipline policies. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote in a press release today that “the School Safety Commission report lays out policies and practices that make children less safe and deny them educational opportunities. It is unconscionable to use the very real horror of the shooting at Parkland to advance a preexisting agenda that encourages the criminalization of children and undermines their civil rights.”

Eliza Byard, Executive Director of GLSEN, stated that “this is yet another dangerous step in this administration’s ongoing effort to eviscerate critical civil rights protections in our schools. By undoing guidance to improve school climate and support our most vulnerable students, the Commission is both dismantling effective policy and failing to address the issue of school safety.”

“The 2014 guidance is integral to providing a safe and equitable learning environment for all. Without the guidance, schools are less equipped to implement positive and preventative measures,” stated Lindsay Jones, CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. “As a result, students are vulnerable to bias, excluded more often, and lose out on educational opportunity.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has also recently proposed harmful new regulations that would make it easier for schools to ignore student survivors of sexual violence and sweep allegations of sexual harassment and assault under the rug. Already, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men will be sexually assaulted in college, and around 1 in 4 transgender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming or questioning students experience sexual violence as an undergraduate.


Media Resources: NYT 12/17/18; National Center for Learning Disabilities 12/18/18; GLSEN 12/18/18; The Leadership Conference 12/18/18; Feminist Newswire 11/16/18

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