Trump Administration Recommends Slashing Civil Rights Protections for Students of Color


By Sarah Hinger & Jennifer Bellamy

On Tuesday, the Federal Commission on School Safety issued recommendations that it claims will help makes schools safer following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. But at the center of the report is a proposal that will endanger millions of public school students, especially students of color and students with disabilities, by reversing federal guidance intended to address racial disparities in school discipline. Doing away with the guidance will weaken federal civil rights protections at a time when the Government Accountability Office reports that Black K-12 students receive punishments that are overly severe and frequent in schools across the country.

Following Parkland, the Trump administration faced massive protests from student activists calling for gun control measures. The administration established the Federal Commission on School Safety in response to the demands for action from across the country and appointed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to chair it. But rather than grapple with students’ demands, the commission has pushed the false narrative that schools can be protected from mass shootings by rolling back civil rights protections for Black and brown students and students with disabilities.

The commission has placed blame on the school discipline guidance issued by the Departments of Justice and Education under the Obama administration in 2014 to address the nationwide problem of students of color receiving harsher punishments than their white peers for the same infractions. The commission claims that this guidance “endangers student safety,” despite the lack of any evidence linking civil rights protections for students of color to school shootings.

Rather than “overreaching,” as the administration claims, the school discipline guidance simply provides educators and students with clarification of long-standing civil rights laws and reminds schools of the need to avoid and repair discrimination in the application of school discipline. The guidance was developed in light of a substantial body of academic research detailing the disparate discipline of youth of color as well as the government’s own investigations, which included findings of “cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students.”

The final analysis from the Departments of Justice and Education: “Racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem.”

The school discipline guidance is also part and parcel of a comprehensive, bipartisan movement to reform the ways in which schools address discipline to reflect what we’ve learned from decades of research. Research and statistics show that the “zero-tolerance” approaches to student conduct that flourished in the 1990s and early 2000s were counterproductive. Increasing punishments, removing kids from school, and referring them to the juvenile justice system led to higher rates of recidivism and an increased chance of involvement with the criminal justice system as an adult — all at a huge cost to the state, children, and their families.

New scientific research about adolescent brain development provides an understanding of why zero-tolerance doesn’t work. As any parent knows, children are prone to make mistakes and to challenge rules set by grown-ups. This is actually part of the process of learning good decision-making skills. But unlike adults, adolescents’ brains respond best to immediate and positive inputs and do a poor job of comprehending far-off or negative consequences — like punishment.

Education researchers and dedicated teachers and administrators have developed many approaches to school discipline that rely on positive support and intervention techniques, rather than escalating punishments, to improve outcomes for students, teachers, and schools. The Department of Education has invested in assisting school districts across the country to implement best practices in school discipline. The school discipline guidance is part of a range of resources on Rethinking School Discipline, including information about evidence-based programs and free technical assistance, provided by the Department of Education. The commission’s recommendations are an about-face on these years of work by career professionals within the Department of Education.

We’ve known these recommendations were coming, even before the commission began its work. When it was created, it was tasked with a starkly worded objective: “Repeal of the Obama Administration’s ‘Rethink School Discipline’ policies.” We’ve also been well aware of the hostility towards civil rights protections exhibited by the commission’s chair, Education Secretary DeVos, who has demonstrated an aversion to enforcing the Education Department’s civil rights policies or even acknowledging that systemic racism exists.

The call to rescind the federal school discipline guidance is not grounded in a sincere effort to protect student safety. Fair, evidence-based approaches to school discipline promote safe and healthy schools, and there is no evidence linking school discipline reform to school shootings. Schools should continue their legal obligation to administer discipline in a nondiscriminatory way and develop the right alternatives to exclusionary discipline.

Sarah Hinger is a Staff Attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program & Jennifer Bellamy is with the Washington Legislative Office


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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22 thoughts on “Trump Administration Recommends Slashing Civil Rights Protections for Students of Color”

  1. Craig Ross

    “reversing federal guidance intended to address racial disparities in school discipline.”

    basically we are going back to the days when people of color were disproportionately suspended – if those days ever ended.  Wonderful.

    1. Jim Hoch

      Your concern is 1) POC will be suspended for actions that would not result in a suspense for non-POC students, or, 2) POC students should not be suspended for actions that would result in a suspension for non-POC students?



      1. Ken A

        “While Nikolas Cruz was still a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, administrators were warned that he was looking at guns on a school computer and told a schoolmate that he liked “to see people in pain.” A school official told the student who complained to mind his own business, the student’s father told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Friday.

        It looks like Jim wants to go back to the dark racist days when students of color were punished for just bringing guns to school or threatening to kill other kids.  If people would just look the other way and “mind their own business” we would not have so many students of color in detention or suspended (sure we will have more dead kids, but it is a small price to pay)…

        1. Ken A

          When Craig says “students of color get proportionately suspended for offenses that are resolved at lesser levels of punishment for whites” I’m wondering why people like Craig don’t name names and get the racist teachers that suspend a student of color for chewing gum while letting the “privileged” white kids get off with a warning disciplined of fired.

          I know quite a few teachers (most are super left leaning progressives) and when you talk to them you will find that when the Asian kid got a warning for “assault” they actually pushed a kid in to a locker, while the black kid who was suspended for “assault” punched a kid and broke his nose.

    2. Ken A

      Davis and almost every other school district in CA suspends a “disproportionate” number of students of color.  I’m wondering if Craig has an estimate of the percentage of students of color in town that get suspended who didn’t do a think and were just being punished by the racists running the Davis schools (I’m also wondering if he feels that Davis has more or less racist teachers suspending students of color for no reason than the state average).

        1. Ken A

          Honest question, I find it strange that so many people talk about racist behavior in local schools but I have not heard even one person name the actual racist teachers suspending people of color for no reason (and Craig won’t even make a guess at the percentage of kids suspended just because of their race)…

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I don’t believe Craig went to school here, so how would you expect him to know?

            If you really are interested in this issue, you might want to talk to Jann Murray-Garcia, she is the one who not only studied the school discipline issue here but also was a driving force for changing the district’s policies on suspensions.

        2. Ken A

          Teachers don’t suspend students like cops don’t put people in jail.

          If a teacher says a kid punched her the kid is probably getting suspended just like when a cop says a guy punched him the guy is probably going to jail…

        3. Ken A

          Don may be surprised that Jann Murray-Garcia seems to think that “teachers suspend students” and in the link David posted wrote:

          “Some teachers think it’s professionally “safest” now only to suspend white students.”

      1. Howard P

        percentage of students of color in town that get suspended who didn’t do a think 

        I’d expand that thought about a main problem with a lot of folk, of all ages…

        People who get into, and/or cause trouble because they “didn’t do a THINK!”

        Gotta’ remember that… yes, know it was probably a typo, but an actually profound concept…

  2. Jeff M

    Let’s touch on some of that fake news stuff.

    It is otherwise known as half-truth.  And half-truth is not the whole truth therefore it is untrue.

     as well as the government’s own investigations, which included findings of “cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students.

    1. Findings of cases does not support any trend or comprehensive data-set… especially when void of comparison to other cases were non-black students were treated more harshly.  And what does “similarly situated” mean.  There was no control for the past behavior of that student.

    2.  Have you seen how many teachers quit their jobs in St. Louis because they don’t feel safe. Obama’s guidelines have been a disaster to school discipline and safety of all the children when violent kids are kept in school because they cannot be removed no matter how they act.

    3. The policies perpetuate racism and racial differences because they are race-based.  They perpetuate the soft bigotry of low expectations with a sort of school student behavior affirmative action.   It is behavior that is the problem, not skin color.

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