Trump Administration Still Enacting Obama School Discipline Guidance Based on Racial Injustice

Minority Students U.S. Dept of Education
U.S. Dept of Education

A 2014 “guidance” from the Obama administration that threatens school districts whose data showed a higher proportion of minority students are administered disciplinary measures is still in effect in the Trump administration.

The Obama Departments of Education and Justice released a “Dear Colleague” letter three years ago that threatened school districts with federal investigation if their discipline measures resulted in statistics that showed a greater proportion of minority students are disciplined than white students.

According to the letter, any school district whose disciplinary measures show “disparate impact” – meaning a disproportionately greater number of minority students are affected – is open to investigation by the departments, regardless of whether the behavior leading to the discipline is unacceptable.

The Obama administration justified its policy with concerns about the “school to prison pipeline” for minority students:

The increasing use of disciplinary sanctions such as in-school and out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, or referrals to law enforcement authorities creates the potential for significant, negative educational and long-term outcomes, and can contribute to what has been termed the “school to prison pipeline.”

In place of traditional disciplinary measures, the Obama administration recommended such alternate techniques as “conflict resolution, restorative practices, counseling, and structured systems of positive intervention.”

Max Eden, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, observes at The Federalist that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos could easily rescind the Obama guidance as part of her duties to fulfill President Donald Trump’s executive order directing her to enforce local control of education.

Eden explains that throughout the last five years of Obama’s tenure, 27 states changed their school discipline laws, with increasing evidence showing the revisions have resulted in teachers backing off from disciplining non-white students when they engage in inappropriate or unacceptable behavior.

He writes of the outcome of the federal government binding teachers and administrators:

Judging by press accounts, the results are rather horrific. After the federal government forced Oklahoma City to change its discipline policies, one teacher reported she was “told that referrals would not require suspension unless there was blood.” In Buffalo, a teacher who got kicked in the head by a student said: “We have fights here almost every day…. The kids walk around and say, ‘We can’t get suspended—we don’t care what you say.’” In St. Paul, the county attorney declared that the threefold increase in assaults on teachers constituted a “public health crisis.”

Breitbart News observed a report, by Katherine Kersten at the Star Tribune in March of last year, that focused on the increasing number of student assaults against St. Paul, Minnesota teachers, as well as student riots requiring police intervention since the change in disciplinary practices.

St. Paul school officials, however, refused to acknowledge the increasing violence and dangers to teachers and other students in the school district as a direct result of the new “restorative justice” procedures urged by the Obama administration.

The situation in St. Paul deteriorated further at Como Park High School when Black Lives Matter labeled teacher Theo Olson a “white supremacist,” and demanded he be fired following his Facebook posts about the dysfunctional behavior displayed by students at the school. Olson reportedly expressed his frustration with having to deal with “kids who won’t quit gaming, setting up fights, selling drugs, whoring trains or cyber bullying.”

At the New York Post in April of 2016, Hoover Institution media fellow Paul Sperry wrote that, as a result of the Obama-era education policy, “public school districts are no longer suspending even violent students; but now, under pressure from Black Lives Matter, they are suspending teachers who complain about not suspending bad kids.”

“An alarming number of other school districts are coddling violent kids, while punishing the teachers they attack,” Sperry wrote. “Most teachers blame the district’s new code of conduct. ‘Negative student behavior is being tolerated at the expense of safety,’ a local union spokesman said.”

Sperry noted as well that Families for Excellent Schools reported, “New York City’s public schools are in a crisis of school violence.” Additionally, a recent New York State United Teachers union survey of 830 teachers in Syracuse found more than one-third said they had been assaulted at least once in the classroom, with 70 percent of those reporting broken bones and bruises.

Kersten noted a comment from one teacher: “We have a segment of kids who consider themselves untouchable.”

She continued:

Most parents will tell you that if you eliminate consequences for kids’ bad behavior, you can expect a lot more of it.

It’s common sense.

But we’re not talking about common sense here. We’re talking about a powerful ideology that has gripped the imagination of Twin Cities school officials — and far beyond. That’s the notion of “equity” — a buzzword that is rapidly becoming the all-purpose justification for dubious policies not only in education but in many public arenas.

Despite what school districts were reporting about the disastrous results of the Obama policy, Sperry noted the disconnect among Democrats:

Yet even as Obama’s national school discipline policy turns classrooms into war zones, 22 Democrat senators last week asked the Senate Appropriations Committee to increase the budget of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights by almost 30% so it can better enforce this insane policy.

The Obama U.S. Education Department, in fact, revealed that complaints to the department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) had more than doubled during Obama’s tenure.

Eden now reports the Trump Department of Education just opened a new investigation into Richmond, Virginia for disparate suspension rates.

“The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) has given notice it will open an investigation into allegations that the Richmond Public Schools’ disciplinary policies and practices unlawfully discriminate against African American students and students with disabilities,” the introduction to the case reads.

Eden suggests one possible reason for DeVos’s continuance of the Obama policy is fear that education media and activists “will surely make her pay for it.”

“They’ll write story after story about how she’s rescinding ‘protections’ for minority students, all but endorsing ‘institutional racism,’ and opening the sluices in the ‘school-to-prison pipeline,’” he writes.

His suggestion may seem even more likely after the secretary’s controversial commencement address at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college. With the help of agitation from the teachers unions, the NAACP, and other leftwing groups, many of the graduating seniors booed, jeered, and turned their backs on DeVos Wednesday during her address, partially because of her support for school choice.

Eden, however, sees a chance for DeVos to take a positive stand for schools throughout the nation.

“She could declare that her administration will not put ideological activism over student safety,” he writes. “It will not blame teachers for society’s inequities. It will not coerce school administrators into second-guessing teachers’ judgment and tying teachers’ hands.”

Breitbart News received no immediate response to a request for comment from the U.S. Education Department.

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