Contact: Tafari Melisizwe, Tafari@dignityinschools.org
WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday the Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety was released. President Trump created the commission in response to the mass shooting in February 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Among the many troubling offerings, The DeVos-led commission has recommended – ironically to her own Department of Education – to rescind Obama-era federal guidance on school discipline, sending a clear message that over-policing, over-disciplining, and criminalizing students of color is fair game. The Guidance, released jointly with the Department of Justice in 2014, was developed to assist states, districts, and schools with developing policies and practices to meet existing federal civil rights laws prohibiting racial discrimination in the administration of school discipline, and to promote positive school climates.
The report, borrowing heavily in theme from the lexicon of military theater, states that:
“Maintaining order in the classroom is a key to keeping schools safe. Teachers are best positioned to identify and address disorderly conduct. However, guidance issued by the prior Administration advocated a federal solution that undercut the ability of local officials to address the impact of disciplinary matters on school safety. The guidance also relies on a dubious reading of federal law. The guidance should be rescinded and information about resources and best practices for improving school climate and learning outcomes should be developed for schools and school districts.”
We at the Dignity in Schools Campaign find this recommendation to be rooted in a profoundly inaccurate and detrimental framework that ignores and obscures data indicating that such “hardening” practices negatively impact black and brown students, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities. This report relies on an erroneous reading of history. The “maintaining order” approach to school climate and discipline encourages the kind of zero-tolerance and exclusionary discipline practices that alienate students and cultivate the very behavioral outcomes this commission claims to want to resolve. Time and time again, students, researchers, parents, and community collaboratives such as the Communities for Just Schools Fund have said that Doing the Harder Work of building strong student-community-school relationships enhances school safety much more effectively than punitive, zero-tolerance policies and increasing the presence of armed law enforcement and other armed school staff.
There is no evidence that police in schools and other punitive policies and practices make schools safer or more academically enriching. For example, schools with higher rates of school suspension and expulsion have less satisfactory ratings of school climate and less satisfactory school governance structures, according to the American Psychological Association. They also spend a disproportionate amount of time on disciplinary matters. Yet, these non-evidence based policies and practices represent the hallmarks of the Commission’s recommendations.
States and local districts have the opportunity to do what the Commission failed to do: lean in to the vision of public education that youth, parents, and teachers are fighting for–a vision that is not limited by a narrow and deeply flawed understanding of safety. Schools do not have to choose between keeping students safe and keeping them in school. They can and must do both.
The Dignity in Schools Campaign challenges the systemic problem of pushout in our nation’s schools and works to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. As a national coalition, the Dignity in Schools Campaign builds power amongst parents, youth, organizers, advocates and educators to transform their own communities, support alternatives to a culture of zero-tolerance, punishment, criminalization and the dismantling of public schools, and fight racism and all forms of oppression. In media attributions, please refer to us as the Dignity in Schools Campaign or DSC.