Trump’s School-Safety Commission’s Strange Focus on Discipline

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visits a classroom at the Edward Hynes Charter School in New Orleans, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visits a classroom at the Edward Hynes Charter School in New Orleans, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The administration wants to keep schools safe by ditching rules meant to prevent racial bias in school discipline.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s school-safety commission, which was established following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, released its much-anticipated recommendations “to advance safety” in schools, including one that would scrap a federal policy urging schools not to punish minority students at a higher rate than white students.

The commission’s recommendation to roll back the Obama administration’s school-discipline guidance does not come as a surprise. Republicans have decried the policy as government overreach since it was released in 2014. The policy advocated “constructive approaches” to school discipline, such as victim-offender mediation, as opposed to harsher penalties such as suspensions or expulsions.

The Trump administration’s discipline recommendation comes alongside several bipartisan common-sense measures in the report, including encouraging teachers, administrators, and parents to be vigilant about reporting information to the FBI; improving access to school mental-health services and counseling; and implementing best practices to curb cyberbullying. The report also advocates that districts create a “media plan” to disseminate information in the event of a shooting, alongside a suggestion to follow “No Notoriety” guidelines to keep the focus in the aftermath of an incident on the victims rather than on the shooter.

The school-safety commission’s recommendations are just that: recommendations. As the report notes, “Implementation of the practices identified in this guide is purely voluntary, and no federal agency will take any action against schools that do not adopt them.” School districts have been slow to respond to such nonbinding recommendations in the past—including school-safety recommendations in the wake of school shootings during both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.

Given the broad mandate of developing recommendations to address school violence, the administration took to addressing the school-discipline guidelines remarkably quickly. The commission argues that the guidance left schools unable—or at least afraid to—take action against potentially dangerous students. “Policy guidance issued under the Obama Administration placed an emphasis on tracking school disciplinary actions by race,” the report says. “The Guidance sent the unfortunate message that the federal government, rather than teachers and local administrators, best handles school discipline.” The commission argued that the emphasis on avoiding a disparity in which students are disciplined may lead school leaders to let their school-discipline policies be driven by numbers, rather than by teacher input.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who chairs the commission, argued that a one-size-fits-all approach to school safety would not work. “Through the Commission’s work, it has become even clearer there is no single policy that will make our schools safer,” she said in a statement. “What will work for schools in Montana will be different than what will work for schools in Manhattan.”

Still, the administration’s focus on school discipline has been highly contested—primarily because it seems disconnected from the broader issue of preventing the next school shooting. “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,” Vanita Gupta, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement following the report’s release. Gupta’s statement tracks with months of criticism of the proposal to scrap the school-discipline guidance. Supporters of the Obama guidance argue that it is necessary to counteract the effects of the inequitable doling out of discipline.

Both Obama-era education secretaries, Arne Duncan and John B. King Jr., released a joint statement on the committee’s recommendation on Tuesday. “We put this guidance in place to start a conversation about these harmful practices and encourage advocates and policymakers to look more deeply into why these disparities exist and to intervene when necessary,” they said. In April, the Department of Education released its annual Civil Rights Data Collection report, which showed that black students made up 15 percent of K–12 enrollments nationwide, but 31 percent of expulsions.

Bobby Scott, the top Democrat on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce—who will become the committee chair next year—put the sentiment of those who prefer to keep the guidance plainly. “Rather than confronting the role of guns in gun violence, the Trump administration blames school shootings on civil rights enforcement,” he said in a statement. “This guidance has no connection to school shootings.”

While advocates and experts of all political stripes are likely to agree with several of the recommendations of the report, the recommendation on school discipline delves, perhaps unnecessarily, into one of the most politically contentious issues in education. As my colleague Alia Wong wrote in March, “For Washington policymakers to give outsized attention to student-discipline reform is to succumb to ideological precepts that lack empirical support. It is to waste the lessons gleaned from the growing tally of school shootings while reinforcing racial disparities.”

Adam Harris is a staff writer at The Atlantic, which originally published this article. 

NEXT STORY: Police Layoffs Likely in Houston After Judge’s Pay-Parity Ruling

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.