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DeVos: Some Educators Say Schools Are ‘Less Safe’ Because of Obama Discipline Guidance

By Alyson Klein — April 09, 2018 2 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a blog post released last week that the Obama administration’s discipline guidance has caused unintended consequences in schools, even as she acknowledged the problem the guidance is trying to solve: that minority students are subject to more suspensions and expulsions than their white peers.

The department is mulling scrapping the guidance, or making major tweaks to it, as part of a broader Trump administration effort to slim down regulations. Although DeVos does not announce a decision one way or the other in the blog post, it gives the clearest indication yet of her thinking.

The department held two rounds of listening sessions last week, exploring the pros and cons of the civil rights guidance, which was released jointly with the Department of Justice in 2014. It informed schools that they could be found in violation of federal civil rights laws if they enforce intentionally discriminatory rules or if their policies lead to disproportionately higher rates of discipline for students in one racial group, even if those policies were written without discriminatory intent.

DeVos recapped stories from two supporters and three opponents of the guidance. For instance, she noted that a Massachusetts teacher came out against suspensions, arguing that being out of school would expose her students to an unsafe environment.

But she also cited educators’ negative experiences with the guidance. A teacher from New York told her that students threatened their peers and teachers, but weren’t disciplined, in part because of the need to cut down on suspensions. An educator from California said students were sent home informally to keep suspension rates low.

DeVos noted that many in the “education community cheered this guidance as a positive step.” But she added, “Since the guidance was released, many educators, parents and students have raised concerns that schools have actually become less safe by restricting teachers’ and administrators’ ability to maintain order in their classrooms,” DeVos wrote.

She also wrote, “They claim that the guidance ignores the law and places statistics over students without addressing the behavior of individual students and how educators should respond and discipline students when necessary. They view the guidance as creating an unsafe environment that has harmed learning.”

The department hasn’t laid out a timeline for when it will decide whether to keep, scrap, or tweak the guidance.

Photo: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos leans over to listens to U.S. Department of Education staffer Bill Cordes as they wait to testify before a House Committee on Appropriation subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 20. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

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