4 Most Outrageous Moments in DeVos’ Report Overturning School Discipline Rules

Last week U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued a new report on school safety that called for the the repeal of federal guidelines on school discipline that help protect student civil rights.

These school discipline guidelines—which were first established in 2014—are intended to address racial discrepancies that find black students suspended more often and more severely for the same behavior. The guidelines are essential in ensuring ALL students are treated fairly in our nation’s schools.

You can read the 180 page report in its entirety here—but here are the most outrageous parts:

1. It conflates school safety with school discipline—and uses Parkland school shooting as pretext. The federal guidelines on addressing racial disparities in school discipline have nothing to do with Parkland, Newton, or any other of the tragic and senseless mass shootings that terrorize our nation’s schools and students. Secretary DeVos appears to be cynically using the tragedy at Parkland to get the U.S. Department of Education out of the business of ensuring and protecting students’ civil rights.

2. The report dismisses Federal school discipline data as “mere statistics” while making broad generalizations without supporting evidence. The report rejects Department of Education’s own data on racial disparities in school discipline while draws conclusions that rely on broad generalizations and anecdotal evidence drawn from a small number of hand-picked opponents of the 2014 guidance.

3. The report rejects the fact that systemic, institutional racism is a problem. As we pointed out after Betsy DeVos’ interview with 60 Minutes earlier this year, the Secretary’s claim that discipline disparities are due solely to individual behavior is damaging in two ways. First, it ignores our nation’s complicated history of race and public education. From legally segregated classrooms to longstanding academic opportunity gaps along racial lines, our nation has yet to overcome the persistent and extreme disparities at the heart of our system.  The data shows that black boys, in particular, are punished more severely for the same behavior. Secondly, by stating that discipline disparities are the result of individual behavior, Secretary DeVos implies that students of color are inherently more ill-behaved than their white counterparts. What else could explain the discrepancy in suspensions and other punishments?

4. The report and this decision passed over the objections of national civil rights groups, education leaders, and thousands of people of faith. The two most recent Secretaries of Education strongly oppose the repeal of these guidelines, releasing a statement that says, “today’s recommendation to roll back guidance that would protect students from unfair, systemic school discipline practices is beyond disheartening.” National civil rights groups have spoken out against this report, saying, “children deserve to be safe in schools, not have their rights taken away.” More than 25,000 people of faith signed an Open Letter to Betsy DeVos, asking her to protect student civil rights and protect these guidelines. In May, this letter was delivered to Secretary DeVos in a meeting at the Department of Education.

We urge Secretary DeVos to reconsider these proposed changes.

Treating students differently due to the color of their skin is the very definition of institutional racism. Instead of exploiting tragedy in order to remove importation protections for students of color, the Department of Education should pursue their mission to ‘strengthen the Federal commitment to assuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual,’ and use the Department’s historic commitment to civil rights to ensure equal treatment and access for all of God’s children.

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