Conservative lawmakers tie Obama school discipline policies to Parkland shooting
- A month after the Parkland school tragedy, President Donald Trump announced that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will head a school safety commission that will, among other issues, look at whether the Obama administration’s "Rethink School Discipline" policies should be repealed, EdSource reports.
- Several states have adopted these policies — which were intended to curb school suspensions, expulsions and arrests as part of a strategy to stem the school-to-prison pipeline — and have already seen progress in accomplishing those goals; however, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) reportedly wrote a letter to DeVos and others saying that such policies “may have contributed to systemic failures to report Nikolas Cruz’s dangerous behaviors to local law enforcement.”
- Critics of this response point out that Cruz, who is white, was actually expelled by the school and his actions and threats had been reported to police — and even the FBI — multiple times without any substantive efforts to prevent his threats from coming to fruition.
This recent wrinkle in the continuing drama that surrounds the Parkland shooting highlights a growing debate over the school-to-prison pipeline issue. The White House report on Rethinking School Discipline issued just before Trump took office points out that “suspension and expulsion can contribute to a number of adverse outcomes for childhood development in areas such as personal health, interactions with the criminal justice system, and education.”
However, some educators object to the term altogether. As Dr. Shelton Jefferies, a black school superintendent in North Carolina, recently said of the school-to-prison pipeline: “That term denigrates educators and it denies the impact of families, who are the first teachers, faith-based communities who teach in the spiritual realm, business partners, nonprofits, law enforcement and elected officials… I defy one person to find an educator who is trying to harm children by putting them on a pathway to prison. That is a farce…Instead of talking about the school-to-prison pipeline, we need to be talking about the school-to-promise pipeline.”
The issue also seems to distract from the larger issues surrounding the Parkland tragedy and seems to have little connection with what occurred there. Cruz was white, was expelled, was reported to police by other citizens, and was reported to the FBI. And still, the tragedy occurred.
Perhaps the issue of gun regulation does need to be reexamined, more mental health care needs to be available in schools, families should take a larger role of responsibility regarding the actions of their children, schools should find ways to discipline students more fairly and effectively, students who threaten violence should be reported to law enforcement agencies and those threats should be considered more seriously, and we should all mourn the loss of these students and staff members without blaming one another but taking to heart the lessons learned.