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August 18, 2020 6 min read
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Do Disciplinary Policies Provoke School Shootings? GAO Study Finds Nothing One Way or the Other

Are discipline policies linked to school shootings? Do alternative practices to suspension and expulsion make it more likely that a school could be targeted by an assailant or an angry student? Such questions have dominated the school safety field following two horrific mass school shootings in 2018 in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, Texas.

In Parkland, some outspoken families and advocates blamed an alternative program in Broward County for obfuscating the shooter’s pattern of disturbing behavior before the attack. They had a receptive ear at the U.S. Department of Education, which in late 2018 moved to rescind Obama-era guidance on school discipline aimed at curbing disproportionate disciplinary outcomes for Black students.

For their part, advocates for such students have long argued that harsh discipline policies and “zero tolerance” regimes feed the “school to prison” pipeline. The federal government’s watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, set out to find out if there was a link between discipline and shootings. It could find no empirical research that directly linked discipline policies to school shootings.

In its search, the GAO included any incident in which a gun was fired at school, on school grounds, events, or activities, or before or after those activities. The agency came up with 318 over the 2009-10 to 2018-19 school years, including accidents and suicides.

Nearly a third of the shootings were motivated by grievances. The next largest category was accidental shootings, followed by school-targeted attacks. Only 5 percent of shootings had a targeted victim. Nearly half the shootings were carried out by students. Shootings that occurred outside schools were more likely to be related to a dispute or grievance than those inside schools. Perhaps the most critical finding is that, despite the roiling debate over the connection between discipline policies and shootings, the GAO was unable to locate even one study that addressed it empirically.

So the GAO collected studies that looked at specific disciplinary approaches on other school safety outcomes, typically broader measures of violent behavior or perceptions of student safety.The results didn’t tilt strongly in one way or another.

Parents May Have a Hard Time Finding Places For Children in Shrunken After-School Field

Say in-person classes resume. Where are parents going to send their children after school? They can’t count on after-school programs because many of the thousands that closed months ago may never reopen. In fact, nearly 9 in 10 have long-term funding concerns because of school closures caused by COVID-19—and 6 in 10 are concerned they may have to permanently shut their doors, a survey commissioned by the Afterschool Alliance, a Washington-based advocacy organization, reveals.

The outlook may even be bleaker than the survey of 914 after-school providers indicates. Respondents were contacted in May and June, before a wave of districts, including 17 of the nation’s 20 largest, announced that they plan to begin the fall semester online.

“Programs are losing resources and funding and really struggling to survive,” said Jodi Grant, the executive director of the Afterschool Alliance. “We’re really concerned with what is happening in the field.”

The survey aims to gauge the health of an industry that served an estimated 10 million children before the pandemic struck. Now, heading into the fall, providers are bracing to serve only a fraction of that number.

Overall, the survey found that more than half of providers are unsure if the “worst is over or yet to come.” Among the programs surveyed, more than 75 percent have laid off or furloughed staff members or cut their hours.

Programs that do reopen this fall likely will need more money to pay for cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment and more space to maintain social-distancing requirements—potential cost overruns that no program could have anticipated even six months ago.

And in school systems that settle on a combination of in-person and virtual learning, programs may have to hire more staff to serve extra students during a redesigned school day.

GOP-Controlled States Channeling Relief Funding to Private Schools

Got a pencil and paper or your tablet to keep track of all this? Maybe a spreadsheet?

Three states—Georgia, Oklahoma, and South Carolina—announced in recent weeks they were giving millions of dollars in emergency aid to private schools, ostensibly because of the coronavirus. (Georgia had already done so.)

In South Carolina’s case, Gov. Henry McMaster planned on allocating $32 million of federal relief money in tuition grants for students attending private schools, including religious ones. The Republican expected the funds to cover about 5,000 grants of up to $6,500 per student.

The one-time program aimed to help families whose finances had taken a hit from the pandemic’s economic fallout. The governor cited declining enrollment in the state’s private schools.

The funds for vouchers were so far the largest sum McMaster had publicly portioned out from the $48 million discretionary fund awarded to the state through the federal CARES Act. But McMaster’s grand plan has come to a grinding halt—at least for the time being. A South Carolina state judge has temporarily blocked it, in response to a lawsuit charging that the distribution of the funds would violate the state constitution.

In Oklahoma, meanwhile, Gov. Kevin Stitt, also a Republican, has decided to spend $10 million of $30 million remaining in discretionary public emergency funds to pay families to send their children to private schools.

Stitt said $10 million will go to about 1,500 families to access $6,500 in funds for private school tuition. The funds would target low-income families that have suffered a job loss or other economic impact as a result of COVID-19.

Finally, there’s Georgia, also led by a Republican governor. The state board of education intends to give $14 million to public schools as a replacement for money shared with 260 private schools.

Illinois Officials to Be Watching What Students Wear at Home

This falls into the as-if-they-don’t-have-anything-else-to-worry-about category.The school district in Illinois’ capital city has instituted a dress-code policy for remote learning, saying students can’t wear pajama pants, slippers, or hats while on camera when classes start in the 14,000-student school system this month.

Springfield school officials say they hope students approach online classes the same way they do in-person classes, and that means following a dress code that also bars hoods, sunglasses, and bandanas, among other things. Students should also be “sitting up out of bed preferably at a desk or table,” according to the code.

“We don’t need students in pajamas and all those other things while on their Zoom conferences,” Jason Wind, the director of school support, recently told school board members.

School officials said the policy changes were developed with teachers, administrators, and parents. Some parents, however, aren’t happy about it.

“I made the decision for my kids to be at home and I don’t really see how any district can come in and say what my kid can’t wear in my house,” Elizabeth Ballinger told local media. “I think they have enough to worry about as opposed to what the kids are wearing. They need to make sure they’re getting educated.”

Overall, Illinois has had 194,080 confirmed cases and 7,636 deaths.

BRIEFLY STATED CONTRIBUTORS: Associated Press, Corey Mitchell, Stephen Sawchuk, and Sarah D. Sparks. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the August 19, 2020 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed

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