As Trump and his administration seek to erase any trace of President Obama’s accomplishments, the United States Department of Education is working to roll back civil rights guidance for educational institutions. But, as we have seen throughout his presidency, the reckless actions of Trump and his administration have been met with resistance.
More than 70 leading educators, teachers unions, non-profits, charter operators and educational institutions sent a letter to the United States Department of Education and Justice Department urging them to leave Obama-era civil rights guidance in place. The letter specifically urged the departments to maintain the focus on racial disparities in discipline focused on the disproportionality of suspension rates for students of color.
“It is unacceptable that students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as LGBTQ experience harsher discipline than their peers. Exclusionary discipline, such as suspensions and expulsions, are linked to students failing in school, to students not finishing school … and often to a lifetime connected to a life-altering juvenile and adult justice system.”
Although opponents say it oversteps the authority of the President and creates chaos, the Obama-era guidance on school discipline encouraged the use of restorative justice practice and urged schools to go away from punitive approaches. The Federal Commission on School Safety, established by the Trump administration following the Parkland shooting, believes discouraging suspension hinders the ability of schools to maintain discipline and order.
However, those who signed on to the letter agree the guidance was an effort to reduce students being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline.
“The letter is partly about imploring the federal government to do their job in upholding students’ civil rights, but it is also a public declaration about our values as an education community,” said, Cami Anderson, founder of the Discipline Revolution Project. “We can and must do more to replace antiquated, harsh, ineffective, and biased discipline practices with student support systems that allow teachers to move away from these practices and toward alternative approaches to suspensions that help students thrive.”
As schools have reduced their reliance on suspension as a means to correct inappropriate student behavior, black students still face significant disproportionality with suspensions rates. According to the US Department of Education, black boys account for 25% of public students suspended at least once although they only make up 8 percent of the public school population. These alarming statistics make it all the more vital that we safeguard the rights of our students. It is a good start, but I think we can do better than 70 educators and various groups demanding the Departments of Education and Justice do their job to protect our students from harmful and discriminatory practices in education.