Disability Advocates Concerned By Plan To Axe School Discipline Guidance
A Trump administration school safety commission is recommending that federal officials rescind Obama-era guidance aimed at ensuring that minorities and students with disabilities aren’t unfairly disciplined.
In a 180-page report released Tuesday, the Federal Commission on School Safety said that the 2014 guidance issued jointly by the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice should be abandoned.
The guidance outlined how schools should work to ensure that discipline isn’t administered in a way that disproportionately affects students from certain groups, noting that federal law prohibits “discriminatory discipline” based on race, disability and other factors.
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At the time, the Obama administration highlighted statistics showing that kids in special education represented just 12 percent of students across the country, but accounted for about 20 percent of suspensions and expulsions and almost a quarter of school-related arrests.
The recommendation this week comes from a panel established by President Donald Trump following the shooting in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The commission, chaired by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, was tasked with recommending steps to improve school safety.
“The commission is deeply troubled that the guidance, while well-intentioned, may have paradoxically contributed to making schools less safe,” the commission said in its report. “Significant concerns also remain regarding the legal framework upon which the guidance is based. These concerns, together with the repeated concerns expressed by many that disciplinary decisions are best left in the hands of classroom teachers and administrators, warrant rescission of the guidance.”
Disability advocates were quick to denounce the panel’s move and urge DeVos to retain the Obama-era approach.
“The guidance provides important information to schools to prevent discrimination and is completely unrelated to the commission’s charge,” said Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network. “Rescinding this guidance would not have prevented a single school shooting.”
Denise Marshall, executive director of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, indicated that data has shown for decades that school discipline is administered in a disparate fashion.
“Ignoring the facts and failing to take meaningful action amounts to deliberate discrimination,” she said. “The recommendation to rescind the discipline guidance that outlines best practices and provides tools and resources will undermine and derail attempts at creating positive environments for marginalized and at-risk students.”
Aside from abandoning the guidance, the federal report also advocated adding more school resource officers. Decker, with the National Disability Rights Network, warned that doing so could put students with disabilities at risk.
“Data shows that increasing the number of school resource officers results in higher arrest rates and physical restraints for some groups of students, particularly students with disabilities. Any school resource officers who do work in schools must be thoroughly trained in how to appropriately interact with all students,” Decker said.