School safety commission to recommend scrapping Obama-era discipline guidance
- The Federal Commission on School Safety, which is set to release its final report and recommendations this month, will suggest rescinding Obama-era guidance aimed at eliminating racial discrimination in school discipline, The Washington Post reported. The commission, headed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, also reportedly won't recommend new gun restrictions.
- The Obama administration's 2014 guidance has some roots in Broward County, Florida, where the public school system instituted a program requiring students to face alternative disciplinary methods instead of law enforcement in certain non-violent cases. Nikolas Cruz, the shooter in the Parkland massacre – which spurred the creation of the commission – was referred to this program, but it's not clear if he attended.
- While many school community members and advocates called for stricter gun laws after the Parkland shooting, the panel didn't give a lot of attention to firearms in its discussions. Sources told the Post that most of the commission's recommendations will have to do with issues such as school security and mental health. It will mostly include best practices for violence in entertainment, creating more secure school buildings and accessing mental health resources.
The Obama-era guidance was meant to ensure that students of color don't face more or harsher disciplinary action than their peers. It notified districts that they could be violating federal civil rights law if racial bias was occurring within school discipline. And it followed reports that said these disparities were persisting in schools. In 2018, years after the guidance was announced, these disparities still exist – black students and students with disabilities are more likely to be suspended than their white classmates.
Some advocates say that these disparities originate from implicit racial bias that remains in the system, but the Trump administration has repeatedly questioned investigating these kinds of complaints within schools, and it's been rumored that the Obama guidance, which has potentially been weakened during the Trump presidency, would eventually reach the chopping block.
Those who favored the guidance said it was a step forward in addressing the racial inequities within the education system. Others said it was taking a stab at dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, which largely affects students of color more than other student populations. Those against the guidance point to Cruz's participation in the Broward County Promise program – which is largely disputed – and say if he had faced law enforcement instead of participating in such a program, maybe the Parkland shooting wouldn't have happened.
Despite reports that the commission will reject Obama's directive, the same group, during a site visit to a Hanover, Maryland school, praised targeted interventions as a way to lower disciplinary actions. The framework, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, is the kind of system that Obama encouraged in issuing his guidance.
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