After the dreadful mass shooting that took place in February 2018 in Parkland, Florida, President Trump responded to the public outcry for safer schools by appointing U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to lead the Federal Commission on School Safety.
Since last March, the Commission has been tasked with researching and recommending solutions to advance the safety of schools in order to prevent future tragedies from occurring. On December 18, 2018, the team compiled and presented their final report to the President, in which they note how the report makes recommendations “based on the insights, experiences, and expertise of a wide range of individuals.” However, one area of the report is raises a red flag, in terms of its underlying motives. It appears to be a stark political vendetta instead of a genuine move for the betterment of students.
On page 14 of the report, the Commission summarized actions they would like to take to prevent future tragedies, by implementing resolutions toward establishing a positive school climate, improving mental health counseling, and adjusting gun laws. Furthermore, the commissioners addressed the topic of school discipline by stating “guidance issued by the prior Administration advocated a federal solution that undercut the ability of local officials to address the impact of disciplinary matters on school safety.” The “guidance” in reference is the Obama administration’s Rethink School Discipline resource guide, which plead for educators and officials to see how Black and brown students are more likely to be disciplined at higher rates than white students for similar offenses.
Shortly after the Commission was birthed, a data report released in April 2018 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlighted how apparent the disparities among Black students, boys, and students with disabilities really were, when it came to being disproportionately disciplined. For example, the study showed how Black students accounted for 15.5 percent of all public school students, but represented about 39 percent of students suspended from school — an overrepresentation of about 23 percentage points. In regards to the purpose of the study, the GAO cited how findings display that students who experience various discipline policies are more likely to repeat grades, become school dropouts, or eventually end up in prison or juvenile justice systems. As a result, these students are led off the path of becoming productive citizens and placed on a route that leads to a dead end.
Despite the charts, statistics, and experiences that provide legitimate and factual support for why the previous administration’s guidance is a credible stance, the Trump administration is steadfastly determined to stick to the same political agenda it has had since day one, which focuses on deregulating as many aspects of the Obama administration as possible.
Of course, student safety is a top priority that should receive the utmost attention considering the various instances, including nationwide shootings and assaults, are petrifying parents and guardians into feeling that schools are increasingly unsafe and unpredictable. However, it is shameful when a president, who recklessly displays his inaptitude daily, and the Secretary of Education, who has made controversial remarks during her time in leadership, move to repeal the steps that were put in place to protect minority students from unfair settings in an educational environment, because the steps are seen as contributing to the downfall of school safety.
Back in 2017, Secretary DeVos received backlash for her actions geared toward scaling back civil rights protections for students, which was highlighted in a budget proposal that would cut 40+ staffers tasked with investigating discrimination and harassment policies against minority students in schools from the office for civil rights. A year later in 2018, her interview on 60 Minutes turned out to be a train wreck, as it exposed her lack of credibility to lead, a belief that was already felt by many Americans, due to her resume being void of any experience teaching or working in a school system. Amidst the answers she presented to journalist Lesley Stahl, DeVos failed to recognize if race is a factor in how black students tend to receive harsher discipline for similar behaviors as their white counterparts. Rather, she chose to say that it all comes down to the individual kids and not the administration.
Is this your secretary of education?
Despite all the commotion associated with her decision-making to date, it can be noted that DeVos and her team sought out ways in which they could twist the civil rights protections previously laid out in Obama’s administration. You would think that their attempt to do so would make them seem unfit to continue.
When looking through Chapter 8 of the school safety report compiled by DeVos’ Commission, they cited listening sessions and summits where they heard from school experts, educators, and parents, who shared grievances about the Rethink School Discipline guide that was previously laid out. While some people stood as advocates for the positive takeaways Obama’s policies presented, other speakers cited how violent instances at select schools — which included the rape of a student, stabbing of a student, and assaults on teachers — were somewhat allowed to happen, because of alternative discipline policies the schools used as a result of the guide’s opposition to harsh discipline. These speakers identified how these schools ignored or covered up previous occurrences, in order to avoid contributing to the racial disparity numbers that the federal government would disapprove of. Although one could believe that there is a credible connection between these schools in question and the Rethink School Discipline guide, it can also be argued that such instances and schools are outliers, and that the unfortunate situations could have still occurred even if a student had undergone previous disciplinary actions.
Also, the Commission slyly labeled the Obama administration’s Rethink School Discipline guide as the reason why some schools have started implementing racial disciplinary quotas and numbers, which they believe will keep them in good standing with the government and not put their federal funding in jeopardy. However, teacher unions and certain education reform groups have stated that the previous guide should remain, and that it is one of the best proponents for protecting Black and brown students, who have been unfairly disciplined for years.
Furthermore, the Commission’s recommendation was not only to rescind the Rethink School Discipline guide, but to also let the U.S. Department of Education (ED) develop the best practices and resources to be used to improve school climate, protect the rights of students, and maintain overall school safety. Secondly, they pose that the Department of Justice and ED continue enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. As such, both the DOJ and ED would provide appropriate information to assist schools and the public in understanding how the ED will investigate and resolve cases of intentional discrimination.
However, the problem is that Secretary DeVos has shown a disregard for even acknowledging that racial discrimination exists in school systems, evidenced by the statement in her interview as well as aforementioned actions she has taken to stray away from looking into any racial bias. Even though she continues to state that the focus of the Commission is to improve school safety overall, the points made within the report are deliberate efforts to blame Obama’s guide for elements of the school system that are unrelated to the reason why Trump formed the Commission, which was to prevent more school shootings.
Ultimately, both DeVos and Trump continue to reach for reasons to eradicate certain policies that originated under Obama. It's as if their deliberate aim is to erase any sign of social progress established via the former administration, by targeting initiatives that were designed to encourage racial equality and the fair treatment of minorities. Although no laws or policies are perfect, it is safe to say that President Obama’s Rethink School Discipline resource guide is one that is predicated on educating people about the unknown biases they may have, while providing data and facts to substantiate why minority students need such protections in place. With this in mind, it’s shameful to see how such a politically charged movement is hell-bent on finding any and every way to turn our nation away from the truth, and instead blame the minority people for the downfalls of today’s society.