The highly anticipated Final Report (pdf) from the Federal Commission on School Safety, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, was released Tuesday—and includes a long-rumored recommendation that is alarming civil rights advocates: to rescind Obama-era policies crafted to end racial disparities in school disciplinary practices.
Formed after 17 people were gunned down at a Florida high school in February, the commission "took a horrendous year of school shooting tragedies and produced a report with a smorgasbord of recommendations—some of which we have championed for years—aimed at making our schools safer," said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. "Unfortunately, the report doesn't address the root causes of the gun violence epidemic: too many guns in our communities and not enough investment in addressing the social-emotional health of our kids."
"But most curious and disappointing is the report's use of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to push an anti-civil rights agenda that won't keep schools safe," she added. Noting that the Obama-era measures "intended to help prevent the disproportionate suspension and expulsion of students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth," she also pointed out that the Stoneman Douglas shooter "had in fact been expelled and reported to law enforcement; rescinding discipline guidance and kicking kids out of school doesn't prevent school shootings."
The Education Law Center, in a statement, said, "Claims that federal measures to address racial and disability disparities have caused lax discipline and triggered a wave of school violence are simply inaccurate and dishonest." The center concluded that the commission's recommendation to rescind the anti-discrimination measures sends a message that the Trump administration "does not care about children pushed out of school and does not care if schools discriminate."
A school safety commission formed after 17 people were murdered at a high school in Parkland, Florida in February plans to formally recommend that the Trump administration rescind "groundbreaking" Obama-era policies that aimed to prevent discrimination against students of color, according to the New York Times.
Expected to be officially announced in a joint letter by the Education and Justice Departments this week, the move will likely elicit immediate outrage. As the newspaper noted:
Disability and civil rights advocates will almost certainly denounce the latest policy maneuver. The Obama administration policies were adopted after strong evidence emerged that minority students were receiving more suspensions and tougher punishments than white students for the same or lesser offenses, while disabled students were too quickly being shunted into remedial or special-education programs.
The Times report alone triggered a swift reaction online, with racial and disability rights advocates as well as supporters of stricter gun laws condemning the commission's position on Twitter:
[BREAKING] @BetsyDeVosED & the administration have proven time & time again that they can't be trusted to keep students safe. This would disproportionately put young black & brown girls in danger - who already face dangerous policing in schools. https://t.co/ATK6K7pKYx
— End Rape on Campus (@endrapeoncampus) December 18, 2018
Decades of research show that harsh #schooldiscipline policies do not promote school safety and negatively impact student outcomes. We should maintain the federal school discipline guidance, which has sparked much-needed reforms in Illinois and across the country. https://t.co/eT58YhlWqq
— Miranda Johnson (@JohnsonMirandaB) December 18, 2018
This hour's outrage: The Trump administration's response to school shootings is to make it easier (again) to suspend black kids. (Spoiler alert: No major school shooting had a black perpetrator) https://t.co/GiACVioaTQ
— Will Bunch (@Will_Bunch) December 17, 2018
In a draft letter and chapter obtained by the Times, the commission charges that the Obama-era policies—imposed in 2014 after federal data revealed that black and Hispanic students were often disproportionately disciplined by teachers and administrators—has made schools more dangerous, even though most high-profile school shootings have not been perpetrated by people of color.
Rather than pursuing gun control proposals, the commission—which includes Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker (who took over for ousted Jeff Sessions), Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen—is targeting six documents from the Obama administration's "Rethinking Discipline" package.
The commission reportedly claims that "the guidance burdened local school districts, potentially exceeded the departments' legal authority and may have made students less safe." It also charges that the Obama administration "gave schools a perverse incentive to make discipline rates proportional to enrollment figures, regardless of the appropriateness of discipline for any specific instance of misconduct."
The Times article followed similar reporting published last week by the Washington Post, which cited unnamed sources familiar with the commission's discussions and forthcoming recommendations. According to the Post, "The commission considered only one question involving gun laws: whether to raise the minimum age for firearms purchases."
While the proposal to rescind the anti-discrimination measures comes as a recommendation of the school safety commission, it is not necessarily a surprise. Prior to the formation of the commission, DeVos met with critics of the policies, and earlier this year—in a decision denounced as "mean-spirited, reckless, and unnecessary"—she delayed implementation of a rule to standardize to how schools identify students with disabilities in hopes of preventing discrimination.