School Safety Panel Recommends Reversal of Student Discipline Guidance

On December 18th, the Federal Commission on School Safety, headed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, released a 180-page report that recommends eliminating civil rights guidance intended to reduce or eliminate the disproportionate rate in which students of color are suspended or expelled from school. The Obama-Era student discipline guidance promotes research-based practices such as teaching students social and emotional skills, providing mental health services, and taking responsibility for one’s own community, practices that lead to positive student behavior. In an Op-Ed in The Hill, Linda Darling Hammond – President of the Learning Policy Institute, says a number of states have seen reductions in suspensions and violent acts since adopting Obama’s student discipline guidance. Yet, President Trump’s school safety commission seeks to rescind common sense discipline practices that help students of color remain in school.

The Southern Education Foundation (SEF) began working on school discipline issues 11 years ago as part of an initiative to uncover and improve high school drop-out rates. Working in partnership with state leaders and community advocates, SEF learned that many of the local districts and schools with high numbers of dropouts also showed abnormally high rates of out-of-school-suspensions for their students. The at-risk populations, including low-income students and students of color who comprise a majority of the drop-out population, were also missing a high number of school days each year due to disciplinary infractions and suspensions.

Additionally, Dr. Shaun Harper and Edward Smith, authors of “Disproportionate Impact of K-12 School Suspension and Expulsion on Black Students in Southern States,” report that in 13 Southern States, black students were disproportionately expelled at rates five times or higher than their representation in the student population.

At a time when states have unprecedented control over accountability systems, school improvement strategies, and reporting requirements authorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act, this is not the moment to rollback key civil rights protections for students of color. The Obama-Era student discipline guidelines should remain untouched to make our schools safer and more effective for all students, but especially for students enrolled in schools in the South.