The Trump administration has revoked an Obama-era policy that urged public schools to employ more lenient forms of discipline for students of color and of other minority groups.
On Friday, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice rescinded the Obama administration’s 2014 “Dear Colleague Letter” that a federal school safety commission said “may have paradoxically contributed to making schools less safe.”
The Obama-era Departments of Education and Justice, under Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder, issued school guidelines that claimed students of color are “disproportionately impacted” by suspensions and expulsions, a situation they said led to a “school-to-prison pipeline” that discriminates against minority and low-income students.
In school districts that adopted the policy, minority students whose behavior would have previously drawn an arrest or a suspension were, instead, referred to “teen courts” or “restorative talking circles.”
According to the Obama administration’s 2014 Dear Colleague letter, school districts whose disciplinary measures showed “disparate impact” – meaning a disproportionately greater number of minority students are affected by disciplinary measures – were open to investigation by the Departments of Justice and Education, even if the behaviors leading to the discipline were unacceptable.
Critics of the Obama-era guidance say it tied the hands of teachers and school officials to administer discipline fairly and effectively and forced them to make statistics – which would be viewed favorably by the federal government – the priority.
In its final report, the safety commission had “significant concerns … regarding the legal framework upon which the Guidance is based.”
“These concerns, together with the repeated concerns expressed by many that disciplinary decisions are best left in the hands of classroom teachers and administrators, warrant rescission of the Guidance,” the commission added.
Jonathan Butcher, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said in a statement about the policy’s rescission that teachers and school administrators “should be free to create fair and consistent discipline policies that fit the needs of their local schools and protect their students.”
“Students should not be disciplined simply for the color of their skin,” Butcher continued. “At the same time, students shouldn’t be threatened or live in fear because a school adjusts its discipline rules to comply with a federal quota.”
Researchers, Butcher said, have found the Obama-era policy often delivered negative outcomes for students in districts that implemented it.
“As a result, dangerous students could remain in the classroom,” he observed, adding that the policy ignored the importance of “the impacts of a student’s neighborhood and family support on school behavior.”
Some education policy experts have observed the Broward County school district’s policy, which includes consideration of race and minority status where discipline is concerned, inspired the Obama administration’s guidance and may have played a role in the fact that Nikolas Cruz remained under the radar until his shooting rampage in Parkland, Florida, on February 14.
In March, Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, told Breitbart News many schools that adopted the leniency policy “have seen marked increases in the number and severity of offenses.”
“The goal should be [to] issue nondiscriminatory discipline appropriate to the offense, not to lower disciplinary standards so racial disparities aren’t as great,” Kirsanow added as he urged revoking the Obama-era policy. “We’re sacrificing good students (and teachers) on the altars of political correctness, racial bean counting, and misguided theories of social justice. This is both boneheaded and tragic. The guidance needs to be rescinded.”