Republican lawmakers, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, are considering harsh punishment measures for disciplining students — and they may ultimately end up sending disproportionate amount of black students to prison.
The Federal Commission on School Safety met for the first time on Wednesday behind closed doors. The unwarranted secrecy already raised concerns for not including teachers, students and parents in the conversation. The National Education Association, which represents 3 million public schools and college educators, was also absent from the meeting.
However, the biggest concern is the fact the commission is considering rolling back an Obama-era guideline that discourages punitive punishment, including the use of law enforcement officers to discipline students and encourages positive restorative practices in response to minor classroom disruptions.
By abolishing the rule, the federal government will make it more difficult for students to stay in school — and easier for them to end up in jail.
Obama’s 2014 guidelines also called for regular evaluation of classroom policies to ensure students with disabilities or students of color are not being disproportionately disciplined. It also provided mental health support to students and clearly stated the role of law enforcement officers partnered with schools.
School arrests can worsen traumas faced by students who are already facing crisis. Linda Raffaele-Mendez, associate professor at the school psychology program at University of South Florida, said a trauma-informed classroom can help understand why a student is acting how and how to best address their needs.
“If you have a kid who gets angry at a teacher and curses for example, there are a lot of teachers who say that kid is immediately out of class and they’re going to go to the office,” she said. “The principal will initiate some kind of disciplinary procedure. But you never really get at the root of what is happening with that child and that is what trauma-informed care is about, even if we don’t know their trauma history, recognizing that kids can get set off by things and sometimes if we can just take a minute to try to figure out what is going on and talk to that kid, we can build a relationship. There is an opportunity for the student to engage in some kind of restorative practices instead of punishing the student for inappropriate behavior.”
However, Republicans are wrongly blaming this very guideline for incidents like school shootings.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called out the Broward County school discipline policies and the PROMISE (Preventing Recidivism Through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Supports & Education) program for being responsible for the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. According to Miami New-Times, the PROMISE program provides positive alternatives to expulsion and law enforcement intervention and was very necessary since students of colors were being disproportionately detained for minor disturbances in class.
However, Rubio said this type of soft approach is the reason why school shooter Nikolas Cruz was not dealt with harshly and was able to slip through the cracks.
However, that’s not true.
Cruz was not in the school’s PROMISE program to begin with. Besides that, the Broward County district school policies do not prevent arrests of students who make felony-level threats.
The Republicans are incorrectly associating school shootings with these attempts to reduce harsh punishments, which experts say are not just ineffective but also hurt black students and students with disabilities.
According to 2016 U.S. Department of Education data, black preschool children were 3.6 times more likely than white students to receive suspensions. Black students in K-12 were 1.9 times more likely than white students to be expelled from school without educational services. They are also 2.3 times more likely to be disciplined while involving officers.
Black students who frequently receive harsh punishments often drop out of schools and get pushed into criminal justice systems. In 2016, a report by the University of California found out that high school students who are suspended even once in a single year are at a higher risk of dropping out.
Banner/Thumbnail: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts