Education Dept. Safety Report Recommends Ending Discipline Policies That Protect Students Of Color

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

A federal commission headed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released a long-awaited school safety report today that recommends, among other things, that the Department of Education abandon Obama-era policies aimed at protecting children of color from excessive discipline in school. The 177-page report says that disciplinary decisions should be left to classroom teachers and local administrators who should not have to follow guidance issued by the federal government.

Under President Obama, in 2014 the administration put districts on notice that they could be in violation of federal civil rights law if students of color were suspended, expelled or otherwise disciplined at higher rates than white students. According to the education department’s civil rights office, among the 2.6 million students suspended each year, African-American boys are three times more likely than white boys to be suspended, African-American girls are six times more likely than white girls to be suspended, and students with disabilities are more than twice as likely as other students to be suspended.

Research shows that when students are suspended, expelled or arrested, they are more likely to drop out of school and suffer negative consequences. Critics of discriminatory discipline, including the ACLU, have called it the “school to prison pipeline.”

The safety commission was formed following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, when Nikolas Cruz, a former Douglas student with a history of discipline problems and suspensions, killed 17 students and staff members on February 14. After federal lawmakers briefly discussed gun control measures, the Trump administration turned its focus to the school safety commission led by Secretary DeVos.

Among what it characterizes as 93 “best practices and policy recommendations for improving safety at schools across the country,” the report recommends that schools “consider arming some specially selected and trained school personnel . . . as a deterrent.” At Douglas High School, an armed school resource officer was on campus the day of the shooting but stayed outside the building instead of confronting Cruz.