Brief #30—Education

Policy Summary
The Trump administration has announced a plan to prevent school shootings that includes arming school personnel and repealing  Obama-era guidance targeted at upholding the treatment and discipline of minority children while combating racial bias.

The president’s Commission on School Safety, created after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, claimed that current  school disciplinary standards  have been too lenient on punishment and  therefore furthered the rising violence in our school systems.

In early 2014, the Obama administration released a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) on school discipline, focusing on safeguarding students of color and students with disabilities from discrimination via forms of punishment and disciplinary actions. The Dear College Letter, created by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), claimed that school districts rely excessively on suspensions, primarily for African American boys. The letter went on to iterate that African American students are suspended at disproportionately higher averages due to racial bias found on administrative levels and such suspensions actually caused significant long-term harm to students, instead of good. The DCL suggested that schools should limit conventional styles of discipline, such as suspensions, in support of more “restorative” methods, underlining discussion and dialogue over punishment. The Obama-era guidance was born from years of grassroots organizing working against the school-to-prison pipeline, a national development wherein children are guided out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

After the Parkland shooting, President Trump voiced his support for arming trained teachers and other school employees, inciting a public uproar from teachers who stand against the suggestion. During DeVos’ most recent announcement, she stated, there no “one size fits all” solution to prevent school shootings, and no new federal spending is being proposed. However, she also went on to say, “Local problems need local solutions” and that schools and states should “seriously consider the option of partnering with local law enforcement in the training and arming of school personnel.”

The Trump administration has targeted repealing multiple Obama-era policies. Many would say they are doing so purposefully or even out of spite, continuing a methodical dismantling of civil rights defenses. This latest policy change from Betsy DeVos is directed at removing the protections of minority students from being unfairly disciplined at school. As previously mentioned, much of the chapter began after the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High. It was Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R) who first officially pointed a finger at the Obama-era discipline guidance as a culprit in mass shootings when addressing a letter to Ms. DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Rubio claimed improper guidance permitted shooting suspect, Nikolas Cruz, to evade law enforcement and eventually commit his heinous crime. For many onlookers this would seem an odd point to find contentious, Mr. Cruz a white student was not escaping school disciplinary procedures, as he was expelled from Stoneman Douglas.

To civil rights organizations, linking a policy to helping minority and disabled students with mass killings laid a huge burden on numerous disadvantaged students nationwide. The Obama-era guidelines  specifically targeted the growing school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished, and pushed out. Students –of-color have been punished for a wide variety of wrongdoings, such as wearing the wrong color hoodie to fighting.As they get expelled or suspended from school they often get shoved into the juvenile and criminal justice system.

Racial minorities and children with disabilities are disproportionately represented in the school-to-prison pipeline. African-American students, for instance, represent 18 percent of students, but they account for 46 percent of those suspended more than once, according to a nationwide study by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. The study shows that black boys are four times as likely to be disproportionately disciplined than their white peers. African American boys also represent 36% of all school expulsions. The 2014 Obama Dear College Letter says  that often this racial disparity is not due to actual school infractions, but due to racial bias.

The numbers are just as worrying for students with disabilities. One report found that 8.6 percent of public school children have been labeled as having disabilities that affect their ability to learn. However these students represent 32 percent of youth in juvenile detention centers. The racial discrepancies are even worse for students with disabilities. Nearly 25 percent of African American students with disabilities were suspended at least once, in comparison to 1 in 11 white students, according to an analysis of the government report by Daniel J. Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., issued a statement in regards to rescinding of the 2014 DCL guidance, “Yet again, the Trump administration, faced with a domestic crisis, has responded by creating a commission to study an unrelated issue in order to ultimately advance a discriminatory and partisan goal…School shootings are a grave and preventable problem, but rescinding the school discipline guidance is not the answer. Repealing the guidance will not stop the next school shooter, but it will ensure that thousands more students of color are unnecessarily ushered into the school-to-prison pipeline.” NAACP is not alone in chastising the Trump administration’s move. Throughout the country, civil rights groups, liberals and democrats contend that focusing on restricting access to firearms would be a better step towards preventing school shootings than reopening a path for schools to expel minority and disabled students  at higher rates than white students.

Resistance Resources

  • A localized movement, Every Child Valued is a nonprofit with a mission to improve the academic outcomes of Eggerts Crossing Village children. The mission of Every Child Valued is to motivate the young residents of Lawrence Township to reach their highest potential as educated and fulfilled adults, to strengthen families, to combat racial, cultural, and socioeconomic isolation, and to build a sense of community.
  • The Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network was established in July 1990, as a non-profit organization in Washington, DC, dedicated to improving education from underrepresented students throughout the nation. QEM claims to be the premier organization for improving the quality of education for minorities, by providing technical assistance to MSIs, funding internship opportunities for underrepresented students, and advocating for college and career readiness in STEM.
  • Minority Access is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to increasing diversity, decreasing disparities and reducing incidences of environmental injustices. Our mission is to assist colleges and universities, the Federal Government and agencies of other governments and corporations of all kinds in implementing programs and providing services to recruit, enhance and retain underserved and underrepresented populations.
  • Black Girls Code is on a mission to increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color, between the ages of 7 to17, to become innovators in STEM fields and leaders in their communities.
  • The mission of The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) is to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues—by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities.

This Brief was posted by USRESIST NEWS Education Policy Analyst Erin Mayer Contact:

Photo by unsplash-logoHeather Mount

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