Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is urging the Trump administration’s Departments of Justice and Education to revise the Obama-era school discipline policy that discourages school districts from reporting threats to law enforcement in the name of social justice for minority students.
Rubio writes in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting rampage by former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people and had not been arrested prior to the shooting despite multiple signs of aggressive or threatening behavior.
“In the wake of the February 14, 2018 horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, disturbing reports have indicated that federal guidance may have contributed to systemic failures to report Nikolas Cruz’s dangerous behaviors to local law enforcement,” the senator states.
In his letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Rubio refers to the Obama administration’s 2014 Dear Colleague Letter that mapped out requirements for public school disciplinary policies that would put an end to the “school-to-prison-pipeline” for minority students. The policy threatened schools with risk of losing federal funding if they showed higher numbers of referrals to law enforcement for minority students than for other students – even if the behaviors in question were unacceptable.
The guidance, writes Rubio, “discouraged schools from referring students to local law enforcement.”
“The 2014 guidance encouraged schools to emphasize ‘constructive interventions’ over certain disciplinary actions,” the senator says. “This guidance also states that school policies should ‘[e]nsure that school personnel understand that they, rather than school resource officers and other security or law enforcement personnel, are responsible for administering routine student discipline.’”
This policy allowed the Departments to initiate an investigation into schools and, if found to be noncompliant, could be at risk of losing federal funding. Further, the 2014 directive and subsequent guidance included onerous requirements and harsh penalties that arguably made it easier for schools to not report students to law enforcement than deal with the potential consequences.
The overarching goals of the 2014 directive to mitigate the school-to-prison pipeline, reduce suspensions and expulsions, and to prevent racially biased discipline are laudable and should be explored. However, any policy seeking to achieve these goals requires basic common sense and an understanding that failure to report troubled students, like Cruz, to law enforcement can have dangerous repercussions. The 2014 directive lacked such common sense, but the guidance can be revised to strike an appropriate balance that marries school safety with student discipline and counseling.
Broward County superintendent Robert Runcie has said little about his district’s discipline policy in the aftermath of the shootings. The school district adopted the policy once Runcie left Chicago – where he once worked for Obama education secretary Arne Duncan – to become Broward County superintendent.
Runcie and Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel signed onto the policy. Within a year of Runcie’s arrival in Broward County, school arrests dropped dramatically by 66 percent. Seeking to implement a similar nationwide policy, the Obama administration brought the Broward officials to Washington to propose their plan as a possible model for school districts across the country.
In Israel’s campaign video in 2012, the Democrat praises the ideology behind the school policy:
I am the sheriff who will measure the success of the agency by the young people we’re able to keep out of jail and not put in jail, while keeping our neighborhoods secure and making sure that we’re doing things the right way. We’ll end racial profiling, not curtail it, but end racial profiling. We’ll diversify the county, we’ll look differently than each other, we’ll think differently than each other, we’ll have hybrid ideas, and most importantly we’ll bring a cultural change to an agency that’s in dire need of one.
Runcie is currently focused on praising students from his district who are now gun control activists. He touts that his school district “prepared them” for this activist role. In a tweet last week, the superintendent cited an article from Slate that praises “comprehensive education” that teaches students how to be political activists.
Why are the Parkland teens so good at this? Their public school prepared them for it.
https://t.co/YLk84y0YC2 via @slate @browardschools likes to boast that they have the best public education system in America. Read why they might be right … #BrowardStrong #MSDStrong
— Supt Runcie (@RobertwRuncie) March 2, 2018
The Slate piece also criticizes Rubio, who is described as “scolding” the student activists “for being ‘infected’ with ‘arrogance’ and ‘boasting.’”