SPLC: Trump’s school safety commission recommendations would make schools less safe

The Federal Commission on School Safety—established by President Trump following the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and led by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos—released a report today that recommends withdrawing the 2014 Department of Justice and Department of Education legal guidance on discriminatory discipline.

The commission’s recommendations threaten to make our nation's schools and students less safe; ignore settled law; ignore both evidence and evidence-based solutions; and ignore progress made towards safe, welcoming, and healthy schools for all students.

Every year, millions of our nation’s schoolchildren are suspended or expelled from school, overwhelmingly impacting the lives of children of color, children with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth.

The legal guidance recommended for rescission today was written to address the serious harm of unnecessary and discriminatory school discipline. In the school year when it was issued, thousands of 3- and 4-year-olds were suspended or expelled from preschool.

Although black students made up only 19 percent of that pre-kindergarten population, they represented almost half of the young children suspended from public preschool. What’s more, research suggests that overly punitive school discipline harms all students, decreasing overall academic performance. Rescinding the legal guidance will remove important best practices and resources for schools and school districts to ensure all students can succeed.

We know from years of research what really makes schools safer—positive and inclusive discipline policies, access to mental health treatment, integrating supports and services into every classroom—yet the Trump administration is recommending scrapping guidance that helps schools follow the law, and makes schools safer and fairer for all.

President Trump, Secretary DeVos and the rest of the commission are relying on ignorance, fear, and misrepresentation—and in doing so, denying the realities of research, settled law, and the lived experiences of students and educators.

This report sends a message to our nation’s students that the federal government is no longer concerned about the negative consequences of overly harsh discipline—but it does not change federal antidiscrimination law.

Any school with discipline policies or practices that discriminate against children based on race, national origin, religion, sex, or disability is still breaking the law. Make no mistake: The Trump administration is intent on circumventing Supreme Court precedent to make it easier for schools to discriminate against children, but it cannot do so simply by issuing a misguided report.