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Trump panel proposes erasing Obama-era discipline rules for minority students, arming more adults

December 18, 2018

The Trump administration issued proposals Tuesday to prevent school shootings, a plan that includes arming more school personnel, taking guns away from highly dangerous people and revoking Obama-administration rules that were criticized for easing discipline of minority students.

The president’s commission on school safety, which was formed after the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, also calls on the media to stop publicizing the names and photographs of shooters to discourage other potential killers from seeking notoriety.

The commission, which was chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, made nearly 100 policy recommendations, mainly for state and local governments to consider. She said there is no “one size fits all” solution to prevent school shootings, and no new federal spending is being proposed.

“Local problems need local solutions,” Mrs. DeVos told reporters.

The option of arming more trained adults must rest with state and local governments, senior administration officials said. But they said it should be an option, especially in rural jurisdictions where the response time of local law-enforcement officials to a shooting could be longer than in other communities.

After the Parkland shooting, President Trump advocated arming highly trained teachers and other school personnel, prompting an outcry from teachers who generally oppose the idea.

The administration also moved Tuesday to revoke the Obama administration’s school-discipline guidance, a policy aimed at combating racial bias that has been blamed for fueling classroom chaos by pressuring schools to reduce expulsions, suspensions and arrests.

A senior administration official said because of the Obama administration’s rules easing discipline, teachers and students told the commission that they were afraid of aggressive students “who were left unpunished or unchecked.”

“That’s the first recommendation the report makes, is to correct that problem,” the official said.

The Education and Justice departments proposed erasing the Dear Colleague along with other components of the January 2014 “school discipline guidance package,” an approach aimed at keeping students in class and out of the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Liberal groups blasted the move, arguing that the commission should have reacted by cracking down on firearms access, and accused the administration of paving the way for schools to punish minority and disabled students at higher rates.

Elsewhere, however, support has grown for ditching the guidance among parents and teachers who insist that classrooms have become more dangerous as students realize there were few consequences other than counseling for disruptive behavior.

Opposition to the discipline policy spiked earlier this year over revelations that the Parkland shooting suspect had been funneled to a diversion program instead of the court system despite his history of violent, threatening behavior.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in the shooting, enthusiastically endorsed the proposed policy change.

“I was ecstatic to hear these recommendations,” Mr. Pollack said in an email. “Rescind the policies that created the culture that allowed for my daughter to be murdered.”

Broward County Superintendent Robert W. Runcie, a former colleague of Obama education secretary Arne Duncan in Chicago, was an early advocate of restorative justice, signing in November 2013 the nation’s most ambitious program to keep troubled students in class.

Suspensions have since plummeted in Broward and many other districts, but schools have also been accused of underreporting assaults, drugs and sex offenses in order to avoid triggering a federal civil-rights investigation.

In Florida, school districts have for several years hidden minor and major infractions by failing to report them to the state as required, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The report cited school districts in which roughly two-thirds of teachers said disciplinary policies that avoid suspensions were not effective.

“The [Obama] guidance sent the unfortunate message that the federal government, rather than teachers and local administrators, best handles school discipline,” the report said. “By telling schools that they were subject to investigation, and threatening to cut federal funding because of different suspension rates for members of different racial groups, the guidance gave schools a perverse incentive to make discipline rates proportional to enrollment figures, regardless of the appropriateness of discipline for any specific instance of misconduct.”

As a Charleston, South Carolina, teacher told the commission, “Once the kid finds out he can say ‘F--- you,’ flip over a table, and he won’t get suspended, that’s that.’”

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission voted 16-1 last week to recommend giving Florida school districts the option to arm faculty willing to carry firearms on campus and undergo training.

Matthew Mayer, a professor at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education and a specialist on school violence, said rescinding the Obama-era discipline rules is “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,” he said. “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.”

The commission also recommends the more frequent use of “extreme risk protection orders” by courts to confiscate firearms from people who are deemed a high risk of danger to themselves or to others. Gun-rights groups generally oppose such steps, and the senior administration official said the action must take into account an individual’s due process rights.

“The report recognizes this as an aspect of this problem,” the official said.

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