After Parkland, Trump announced the creation of a school-safety commission. One of its specific tasks is to review the Obama administration’s 2014 guidance and decide whether it ought to be rescinded. The goal of the 2014 guidance was to eliminate race-based discrimination in discipline practices: Federal data had long shown that students of color were suspended at disproportionately high rates despite evidence suggesting that such students are no more likely to misbehave than are their white peers.
Critics, however, decried the new rules as federal overreach, with some concluding that the policy—which threatens to withhold funding for schools that fail to comply with it—has hampered educators’ ability to ensure their schools are safe and orderly. Some studies have found a correlation between discipline reform and increased rates of reported disorder, while others have associated it with a decline in academic performance for never-suspended students. (Any research on student-discipline practices is limited in its ability to draw causal conclusions, as schools are inherently difficult settings for experimental research and because districts have translated the Obama guidance into local policies in varying ways.)
Now, some policymakers and pundits have started to scapegoat discipline reform as a key factor behind campus massacres. School-based shootings rightly lead to policy discussions, “but to say that we should therefore be on the lookout for more dangerous kids to the point that it feels like fear-mongering—that could exacerbate the problem instead of actually solving it,” said Cami Anderson, the former superintendent of Newark Public Schools and founder of The Discipline Revolution Project.
In a hearing with U.S. House representatives this past Tuesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who’s leading the White House’s school-safety commission, refused to elaborate on how or why the elimination of the 2014 guidance factored into the commission’s goals, noting that the prospective repeal is part of the administration’s larger effort to review pre-Trump executive regulations. Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for DeVos, on Wednesday stressed that the focus on student discipline is just one item on a menu of potential “common-sense solutions to prevent school violence.” “Everything is on the table when it comes to keeping our nation’s students safe in school,” Hill said in an email, noting that the commission will hear from a range of stakeholders. “No single policy topic nor group’s input will carry more weight than another.”
But conservative think tanks and lawmakers have made it clear that they believe the Obama-era guidance is a key contributor to the likelihood of another Parkland. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, for example, scrutinized it at a hearing on school Tuesday morning titled “Preventable Violence in America: An Examination of Law Enforcement Information Sharing and Misguided Public Policy.” And the right-leaning Heritage Foundation recently announced the launch of a robust school-safety initiative, publishing a report that laments the Parkland shooting as a potential consequence “of failing to punish and correct serious wrongdoing by troubled youths” thanks to policies like the 2014 guidance.