Trump's safety panel seeks to revoke school discipline rules

FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2018 file photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a student town hall at National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. President Donald Trump’s school safety commission is proposing a rollback of Obama-era guidance that was meant to curb racial disparities in school discipline. The commission was led by DeVos and made dozens of policy recommendations in a report released Tuesday. Trump created the panel in March following the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Education advocates denounced school safety recommendations from the Federal Commission on School Safety released Tuesday by the Trump administration, especially the rollback of Obama-era school discipline policy meant to curb racial disparities.

The Education Law Center said it strongly opposed several key recommendations in the report and said many are “misguided and not supported by research.”

“Increasing the number of school-based arrests and treating our students like potential criminals, instead of children, will not make our schools safer, but instead will grease the skids in the school-to-prison pipeline. We must work to improve school cultures in a manner that does not treat the civil rights of students of color as a disposable luxury,” the Education Law Center said in a news release.

The report by the Federal Commission on School Safety, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, lays out dozens of suggestions to improve safety in America’s schools. President Donald Trump created the commission in March following the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The report covers areas ranging from mental health and cyberbullying to the regulation of guns and violent video games. On the question of whether schools should arm teachers and other employees, the panel said it should be left to states and schools to decide, but the panel noted that schools can use certain federal grants for firearms training.

Among the chief proposals is a rollback of the 2014 guidance urging schools not to suspend, expel or report students to police except in the most extreme cases.

President Barack Obama’s administration issued the guidance after finding that black students were more than three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended or expelled.

Rutgers school violence expert Matthew Mayer, one of several professors who initiated the “Call for Action To Prevent Gun Violence In The United States of America” after the Parkland shooting, said repealing the discipline guidance “would be a tremendous disservice to at-risk youth and other students, their families and the larger communities in which they live.”

“It would reverse recent progress in improving school climate nationally and helping more at-risk students succeed in their life trajectories. In addition, it would exacerbate community safety problems and further promote the school-to-prison pipeline. It would be an all-around bad idea, with significant short- and long-term harm as a result,” Mayer said.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was positive about many of the recommendations, including support for school counselors, cyberbullying prevention, extreme-risk protection orders, a troops-to-teachers program and active-shooter training, but wanted the panel to address the root cause of gun violence in communities and funding for the initiatives.

In regard to the discipline rule, Weingarten said it was disappointing the panel used the Parkland shooting “to push an anti-civil rights agenda that won’t keep schools safe.”

The policy came under scrutiny following the Parkland shooting, with some conservatives suggesting it discouraged school officials from reporting the shooter’s past behavioral problems to police.

In its report, the commission says disciplinary decisions should be left to school officials. It said the Justice Department should still investigate intentional discrimination but not the unintentional cases that are barred under the 2014 policy.

Along with DeVos, the safety commission includes leaders of the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security. They issued their findings after more than a dozen meetings with teachers, parents, students, mental health experts, police and survivors of school shootings.

Among its other proposals, the commission urged states to adopt laws allowing “extreme risk protection orders,” or court orders that temporarily restrict access to firearms for people who are found to pose risks to themselves or others. The group recommended against raising the minimum age to buy a firearm, generally 18 in most states, saying there’s no evidence it would reduce killings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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