The U.S. Department of Education is moving to strip policy that shielded LGBTQ students from being disproportionately punished in schools.
On Tuesday, the Department’s Federal Commission on School Safety recommended axing Obama-era guidance that aims to prevent discrimination in discipline against marginalized students.
The “Rethink Discipline” guidance was launched as part of Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative to tackle disparities facing young men of color. Specifically, it sought to address the disparities in punishment facing students of color, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities.
But in March, the Trump Administration created the Federal Commission on School Safety in response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The Commission is comprised of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
Their Tuesday report argues that the Obama guidance on discipline “offends basic principles of federalism and the need to preserve state and local control over education.”
“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,” it argues.
The report explicitly argues against increased gun regulation, concluding that because young people often take guns from their family members to commit mass shootings, increasing the minimum age for firearm purchase is unlikely to reduce violence.
But what combatting discrimination in schools and gun violence have to do with one another is less clear from the 180-page report. The report suggests that the guidelines made teachers reticent to deal with problematic students, but does not explain what research suggests that tackling bias in punishment increased risk of school violence.
The report cites only anecdotal examples. For example, it mentions the Texas School and Firearm Safety Action Plan, which notes that “when the individual disciplinary decisions of teachers are frequently questioned, teachers may pull back on removing potentially dangerous students from class.”
The Department of Education did not respond to a request from INTO to explain how gun violence was tied to preventing discrimination against marginalized students.
A blistering media release from national LGBTQ organizations slammed the Commission’s recommendations, arguing that the move made schools more, not less, dangerous.
“By undoing guidance designed to improve school climate and support our most vulnerable students, the Commission is both dismantling effective policy and failing to address the issue of school safety,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of LGBTQ education organization GLSEN.
The Trump administration, however, has wasted no time in removing the Obama-era guidance. The full report on “Rethink Discipline” has been scrubbed from the White House website and now goes to a dead link.
According to GLSEN, nearly 63 percent of LGBTQ students reported in 2015 that they were disciplined compared to just 46 percent for their heterosexual counterparts.
The Obama Administration noted in 2016 that federal data from 2013-2014 showed that black students were nearly four times more likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions than white students.
“This problem is compounded for LGBTQ students of color who often are often unfairly targeted by punitive school policies as a result of their intersectional identities,” said David J. Johns, National Black Justice Coalition executive director, in a statement. “The Department’s guidance will only serve to set us back as a nation, ensuring that the majority of the nation’s public school students are locked out of opportunities to develop the skills, credentials, and relationships necessary to succeed in the global 21st-century labor-market or ensure our national security.”
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