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Federal School Safety Commission Will Call for Scrapping Obama Discipline Guidance, Report Says

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The Federal School Safety Commission's report is expected to recommend scrapping an Obama-era rule aimed at making sure that students of color aren't disciplined more harshly, or more often than their peers, the Washington Post has reported.

The U.S. Department of Education neither confirmed nor denied the story. "The Federal Commission on School Safety has studied this topic extensively and will make a recommendation on it in its final report," said Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for DeVos.

The 2014 civil rights guidance--jointly issued by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice--put schools on notice that they may 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.

President Donald Trump asked the commission—which was charged with making policy recommendations in the wake of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.—to consider the future of the guidance as part of its work.

The guidance was inspired in part by a program run by the Broward County school system, which required schools to refer students to an alternative disciplinary program instead of law enforcement for a list of non-violent offenses. The Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was referred to the program for three days after he damaged a faucet in a school bathroom at Westglades Middle School. But it is not clear if he attended.

Advocates for educators and civil rights organizations have long expected that a recommendation to get rid of the guidance would be the centerpiece of the panel's report.

Back in April, DeVos met with both supporters and opponents of the guidance. After those meetings, DeVos wrote a blog post in which she acknowledged the arguments on both sides of the issue, but appeared more sympathetic to the guidance's critics. 

Critics, who included teachers and representatives from the National School Boards Association and AASA, the School Superintendents Association, say the document has had a chilling effect on local decisionmaking.

Racial differences in discipline rates can't entirely be explained by different treatment in schools, those critics contend. They argue black students are more likely to be exposed to out-of-school factors, like poverty, which can cause them to misbehave more.

Supporters of the guidance say it has been instrumental in protecting the civil rights of students who are often overlooked. And the directive has motivated states and districts to re-examine their disciplinary practices, making changes that have benefited all students, they said.

If DeVos ultimately does decide to ditch the discipline guidance, it won't be the first time she's tossed an Obama civil rights directive. The Trump administration has scrapped Obama guidance allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender identity, and delayed for two years an Obama-era rule that would require states to use a standardized approach to figuring out if they have too many minority students in special education or if they're punishing them or putting them in restrictive settings more than white students. DeVos is also in the process of rewriting Obama-era rules governing sexual assault to bolster the rights of the accused.

Photo: Jacquelyn Martin for the Associated Press

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