Ron Aira/Creative Services/George Mason University
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Safety commission wants to cancel Obama-era effort to reduce discrimination in school discipline

Dec. 11, 2018
Panel commissioned by President Trump after Parkland, Fla., school shooting will not recommend new gun restrictions, The Washington Post reports.

President Trump’s school safety commission will recommend canceling an Obama-era initiative meant to reduce racial disparities in school discipline and will not recommend new gun restrictionsThe Washington Post reports.

The commission, chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and formed following the February shooting at a Parkland, Fla., school that left 17 people dead, is expected to sidestep more contentious questions in the debate over school security.

The panel’s report, which officials plan to release this month, will consist mostly of ideas for addressing mental health, school security and other issues, people familiar with the report say.

The recommendation to rescind the Obama administration’s guidance to schools over discipline will be the report’s most concrete element.

The guidance, issued by the Education and Justice departments in 2014 as a letter to school officials, puts districts on notice that they could be in violation of federal civil rights law if black students or other students of color are suspended, expelled or otherwise disciplined at higher rates than white students.

Conservatives, including DeVos, have seen the guidance as an example of federal government overreach. Supporters of the guidance say it was necessary to address large disparities driven by sometimes unintended racial bias.

The commission considered only one question involving gun laws: whether to raise the minimum age for firearms purchases. The commission will not recommend changing the law.

The report will not explicitly recommend arming teachers, but will offer guidelines for schools choosing to do so, according to the people familiar with the report.

Most of the school safety report will consist of best practices on subjects including violent entertainment, media coverage of mass shootings, access to mental health treatment and school building security.

The report will not directly cancel the guidance, according to people familiar with the planning. But because DeVos chairs the commission, she is in effect making a recommendation to herself.

The 2014 Obama-era letter cited data showing African American students are more likely to be disciplined than their white peers and said the gap cannot be explained by more frequent or serious misbehavior.

A report this year from the Government Accountability Office documented the gaps and suggested racial bias may be to blame.

The Trump administration has been far more skeptical of investigating systemic bias in schools than was the case under President Barack Obama. The Education Department no longer opens investigations of allegations of systemic discrimination, focusing instead on individual complaints.

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