The school discipline policy that may have allowed Nikolas Cruz to escape arrest by Broward County law enforcement and ultimately purchase the firearm he used to kill 17 people is in effect in over 50 school districts across the country.
“He probably wouldn’t have been able to buy the murder weapon if the school had referred him to law enforcement,” veteran FBI agent Michael Biasello told RealClearInvestigations (RCI).
In 2014, the Obama administration issued a “Dear Colleague” guidance that threatened school districts – whose disciplinary measures showed a disproportionately greater number of minority students affected – could be subject to investigation by the Departments of Justice and Education, regardless of whether the behaviors leading to the discipline were unacceptable.
Deborah York, now a retired teacher in Edina, Minnesota, tells Breitbart News she sees “a lot of fear in schools, not only physical fear of being assaulted or violently abused, but ‘system fear’ that’s coming from the top down about gag orders and data privacy, where you can’t talk among your fellow teachers, even to share information.”
“If you do, you get into these lengthy investigations where they try to destroy you and – in a way – they’re trying to get rid of you,” she states.
York formed a coalition that worked with the Minnesota state legislature in 2016 to pass a bill that grants teachers a reinforced right to remove aggressive students and to be informed when students with violence in their histories are placed in their classrooms.
Her group produced the video above titled, Silenced Classroom.
In December, York and her group met with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, other Trump administration education officials, and the Human Rights Commission to address the rise in school violence – particularly since the Obama Dear Colleague letter – and to ask them to consider a campaign to make the recent Minnesota teacher protection law a national law.
Breitbart News reached out to the U.S. Education Department for comment about the meeting with York and her colleagues, but received no immediate response.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has been supportive of the Obama school discipline policy. In fact, AFT is asking its members to register for a webinar about how to “protect the Obama-era school discipline guidance” that allows disruptive and even aggressive students to avoid disciplinary procedures “to help schools prevent and address discipline practices that discriminate against students of color.”
AFT is joining with the NAACP and The Dignity in Schools Campaign – which includes members such as affiliates of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, Mom’s Rising, and Girls for Gender Equity – to fight to maintain the Obama-era school discipline policy during what they call a “Week of Action to Protect the Federal School Discipline Guidance,” from March 16-22.
Dignity in Schools describes its mission as challenging “the systemic problem of pushout in our nation’s schools” and working “to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.”
“[T]he Dignity in Schools Campaign builds power amongst parents, youth, organizers, advocates and educators to transform their own communities, support alternatives to a culture of zero-tolerance, punishment, criminalization and the dismantling of public schools, and fight racism and all forms of oppression,” the groups states.
In a letter to President Donald Trump, AFT president Randi Weingarten requested a meeting between the president and teacher union leaders.
“Schools need to be safe sanctuaries, not armed fortresses,” she wrote. “Your proposal to arm teachers not only would make our children’s classrooms less safe, but also is not what educators and students want … Our first instinct is to protect kids, not engage in a shootout that would place more children in danger.”
We also have a number of recommendations on sensible steps we can take right now to create safe schools. These include ensuring mental health services are widely available; stopping your proposed cuts to school safety programs and other supports to help kids, such as after-school programs; staffing schools with well-trained resource officers, who may be armed if a community so decides; instituting wider background checks; and banning military-style assault weapons and munitions.
However, in the wake of arguments heard by the Supreme Court Monday in Janus v. AFSCME, a case about whether unions should be able to force workers to pay union dues, York and teacher advocate Soni Styrlund say they have received an email from AFT president Randi Weingarten stating she is open to meeting with them to discuss the Minnesota teacher protection law.
Prior to this email, York and Styrlund both say union officials had informed them union members’ benefits do not include ensuring a safe environment for teachers.
Breitbart News reached out to AFT to ask whether the union would consider support for the Minnesota law on a national level, and also whether union membership involves assisting teachers with a safe and supportive environment. No immediate response was provided by AFT.
In Broward County, superintendent Robert Runcie, who worked for Obama education secretary Arne Duncan in Chicago, put the school discipline policy into action in 2011, and later reaped millions in federal dollars for his district as a result. Duncan and Obama Attorney General Eric Holder then put the same policy into place nationally when they released the Dear Colleague letter several years later.
At RCI, journalist Paul Sperry reviewed documents related to the Broward County Public Schools PROMISE program, the aim of which, he says, was to allow “thousands of troubled, often violent, students to commit crimes without legal consequence” in the name of saving minority and low-income students from the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
In place of suspensions, expulsions, and arrests for delinquent and violent behavior, the policy called for interventions such as “teen court” and “restorative justice.”
“The Florida Legislature … has instructed school districts ‘that zero-tolerance policies are not intended to be rigorously applied to petty acts of misconduct and misdemeanors, including, but not limited to, minor fights or disturbances,’” says the PROMISE agreement, signed onto by the school district and law enforcement.
In 2015, during a panel of the National Urban League Conference, Runcie said Broward County Public Schools had “the determination and tenacity to become the national leader in closing the achievement gap, and we will get this done … helping our kids in our classrooms and not sending them to courtrooms.”
At the New York Post, Sperry also wrote in December that the Obama school policy has made schools more “dangerous.”
Peter Kirsanow – an African American conservative on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights – cited federal data that showed that, in just the first year of the new Obama-era policy, there were more than 160,000 “physical attacks” on teachers throughout the country, though fewer than 130,000 assailants were expelled.
“Many teachers have been sent to the hospital by students emboldened by the lax discipline rules — which remain in full force, despite the change in administration, and have now been adopted by 53 of the nation’s largest school districts, including NYC,” Sperry wrote.
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota adopted the Obama school discipline policy and, subsequently, saw a rise in school violence.
Sperry tells the story of John Ekblad, a former science teacher in St. Paul, who, in 2015, was “beaten and choked out” by a 16-year-old black student who called him a “f**king white cracker” prior to putting him in a stranglehold. As a result of the assault, Ekblad suffered both a concussion and brain damage, which has left him with short-term memory and hearing loss.
“The district is not suspending students for fighting, theft, drugs and alcohol in an effort to show less students of color are suspended,” he said, stating that principals have also been paid $2,500, in some cases, for having low suspension rates.
York herself was assaulted – though prior to the Obama policy – in 2009 by a first-grade student in her classroom who also hurt 13 of his fellow students. As a result of the student’s behavior, she needed three surgeries for injuries to her back and neck.
She went through a lengthy investigation as a result of her communication via email with parents of the other students in her class about the incident – though she did not name the offending student.
York asserts teachers and students are being harmed in classrooms across the Twin Cities and likely across the country. She says:
After what happened to me in my classroom, I became a voice, because teachers are silenced, and retaliated against, and threatened with termination if they talk about what’s happening. Not only teachers but also parents have been calling me over the past five years asking for help, telling me, ‘My student or my child is being abused, and the principal or superintendent will not do anything to protect my child and the children in the classroom.’
“The Dear Colleague discipline practices – which we have learned are in direct conflict with our Minnesota Teacher/Student Protection Law –hurt those most needy students who were the targeted students the design of the program was created to meet the most,” York says. “Again and again, we have asked for revision of the Dear Colleague policy guidelines, to hold all students to the same set of behavior guidelines per local district discipline policy guidelines. We continue to wait.”