U.S. Civil Rights Commissioners: Obama-Era School Leniency Policy Brings ‘Fear’ and ‘Danger’

US President Barack Obama chats with students while visiting a classroom at Coral Reef High School in Miami, Florida on March 7, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights say the Obama-era school leniency policy that discourages reports of threatening behavior by minority students to law enforcement is dangerous.

“Many schools that have adopted lenient disciplinary policies – i.e., defining offenses down so that blacks and Hispanics aren’t suspended or expelled at significantly higher rates than whites and Asians—have seen marked increases in the number and severity of offenses,” attorney Peter Kirsanow, a Republican member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, tells Breitbart News. “St. Paul is just one example, but numerous districts across the country have reported spikes in violence against teachers and students, as well as other forms of disruptive behavior.”

“Students (and teachers) have reported being fearful of going to school,” adds Kirsanow, who also chairs the board of directors of the Center for New Black Leadership. “One school principal stated unequivocally that the people that are most harmed are the good students who want to learn but are harmed by the chaotic environment.”

Similarly, in a paper released in January, U.S. Civil Rights commissioner Gail Heriot, an Independent and a professor of law at the University of San Diego, writes with her colleague, Alison Somin, of the dangers of the Obama-era policy:

The danger should have been obvious. What if an important reason more African-American students were being disciplined than white or Asian students is that more African-American students were misbehaving? And what if the cost of failing to discipline those students primarily falls on their fellow African-American students who are trying to learn amid classroom disorder? Would unleashing OCR and its army of lawyers cause those schools to act carefully and precisely to eliminate only that portion of the discipline gap that was the result of race discrimination? Or—more likely—would schools react heavy-handedly by tolerating more classroom disorder, thus making it more difficult for students who share the classroom with unruly students to learn?

“The Department of Education’s disparate impact policy is encouraging discrimination rather than preventing it,” the authors further assert:

When it comes to school discipline policy, the federal government has an unimpressive track record. In the past, it has pressed local schools to adopt tough “zero-tolerance” rules for guns (including things that appear to be guns), resulting in children being suspended for “guns” made out of a nibbled Pop Tart or a stick. Similarly, on too many occasions, its get- tough, policies on sexual harassment have led to disciplinary actions against kindergarteners and first-graders—children generally too young to spell “sexual harassment,” much less engage in it.

More recently, we’ve been seeing an overcorrection. The federal government’s policy developed during the Obama Administration has been to press schools to lighten up on school discipline, specifically to benefit African Americans and other racial minorities. But both efforts to dictate broad discipline policy, while well-meaning, are wrongheaded. It’s time for the federal government to get out of the business of dictating broad discipline policy.

The debate over the Obama administration’s policy comes as Nikolas Cruz is charged Wednesday with 17 counts of premeditated murder following his shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida.

Despite many warnings of Cruz’s propensity for violence and aggression while he was a student at the school, he was never arrested — and was ultimately able to purchase a firearm.

Broward County Public Schools adopted its PROMISE disparate impact policy after current superintendent Robert Runcie left Chicago – where he once worked for Obama education secretary Arne Duncan – and assumed his post as head of the school district.

Runcie and Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel signed onto the PROMISE program. In Israel’s campaign video in 2012, the Democrat praised the ideology behind the lax 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.

Within a year of Runcie’s arrival in the school district, school arrests dropped dramatically by 66 percent. Seeking to implement a similar nationwide policy, the Obama administration brought the Broward County officials to Washington to propose their plan as a possible model for school districts across the country.

In 2014, the Obama administration issued a Dear Colleague letter that mapped out recommendations for national public school disciplinary policies that would purportedly put an end to the “school-to-prison-pipeline” for minority students. The policy threatened schools with risk of federal investigation 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.

With the Obama-era policies in place now in more than 50 school districts throughout the country, students whose behavior would have previously drawn an arrest or a suspension have been instead referred to “teen courts” or “restorative talking circles.”

Kirsanow reports that the literature on racial disparities in disciplinary rates often omits key data.

“Much of the literature that focuses on racial disparities in disciplinary rates recites statistics showing that black and Hispanic students are 3—4 times more likely to be suspended than white and Asian students,” he explains. “But the same literature often leaves out data showing that black and Hispanic students are far more likely than white and Asian students to commit the types of offenses resulting in suspension.”

“There is some evidence that black students are more likely to be suspended than white students for some of the same infractions,” he adds. “But a closer look at the data shows that’s not necessarily due to discrimination, but rather, the disciplinary policies of specific schools or school administrators. Some black school administrators at majority-black schools punish black students more harshly than white school administrators punish white (or black) students at majority white schools.”

In March 2016, Katherine Kersten wrote at the Star Tribune about the increasing number of student assaults against St. Paul, Minnesota teachers, as well as student riots requiring police intervention since the adoption of the lax disciplinary practices.

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

“Most parents will tell you that if you eliminate consequences for kids’ bad behavior, you can expect a lot more of it,” Kersten observed. “It’s common sense.”

“But we’re not talking about common sense here,” she added. “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.”

“The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a hearing just a few months ago on the “School-to-Prison Pipeline,” Kirsanow tells Breitbart News. “Many progressives start with the assumption that the profound disparities in disciplinary rates between the races must be caused, at least in substantial part, by racial discrimination. Maybe that is a cause of the disparities, but we’ve adduced no evidence of such alleged discrimination, other than the numerical disparities themselves.”

Kirsanow states some school officials may have adopted the Obama-era policies for the purpose of boosting graduation rates and reducing incarceration rates for black and Hispanic students.

“But others have done so because they don’t want to be subjected to the heavy hand of the federal government,” he says. “They just ‘get their numbers right’ by keeping dangerous and disruptive students in class rather than suspending or expelling them, or reporting them to law enforcement.”

“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 asserts. “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.”

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is composed of eight commissioners. Four are appointed by the president and four by Congress. The commissioners serve six-year terms and are not confirmed by the Senate.

Currently, four members of the commission are Democrats, three are independents, and one is a Republican. The four presidential appointees were all selected by former President Barack Obama.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.