This Newsbrief gives our sense of important and timely federal educational news within the following process and 
protest context
To advance educational excellence and equity, we must prioritize the needs of our most vulnerable students and communities. To accomplish this goal, we need clear processes for the development of policy, and we need to take into account opposition to current and proposed policies and practices — protest — as a healthy part of those processes.  

Federal Update

School Safety Commission Nears End

August 31, 2018

 

The Issue

This week, in Montgomery, Ala., the Federal Commission on School Safety held its fourth and final public listening session. It is now expected to move quickly to issue its final report. The commission has the task of “quickly providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school,” and “examining the repeal of the Obama Administration’s ‘Rethink School Discipline’” policies.

What is the Commission Considering?
The commission has held 14 meetings to date. Not all of its meetings have been open to the public. Among the topics considered by the commission are:

  • Meeting with experts and survivors of mass shootings

  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)

  • The ecology of schools: fostering a culture of human flourishing and developing character

  • Curating a healthier and safer approach: issues of mental health and counseling for our young

  • Transforming school climate and culture to meet the behavioral needs of students

  • Proactively protecting our schools

  • Creating a “Citadel of Learning”: new tools to secure our schools, inside and out

  • Best practices for school building safety

What are the Rethink School Discipline policies?
In 2011, under direction from the Obama Administration, US ED and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) began an effort to analyze school discipline practices with the intention of improving school climates and discipline practices and “reducing unnecessary out of school suspensions and expulsions.” These efforts resulted in a series of meetings, policy documents, official guidance letters from US ED and DOJ, and the creation of several new programs and initiatives.

The “Rethink School Discipline” efforts were intended to clarify the responsibility of states, districts, and schools to not discriminate unlawfully in the administration of school discipline. Among the guidance and policy documents issued by US ED and DOJ during this time are two that have attracted significant attention, and that the Trump administration is actively considering repealing:


The Process

In the wake of the mass shooting earlier this year at Parkland High School in Florida, President Trump created the Federal Commission on School Safety and designated United States Department of Education (US ED) Secretary Betsy DeVos as its leader. The decision to create a commission focused on school safety was replicated in a number of states, including Pennsylvania, Indiana, Arkansas, and Utah.

The Federal Commission on School Safety met for the first time on March 28, 2018, in a session that was closed to press and to the public. The entire membership of the commission is comprised of current members of the President’s cabinet: Secretary DeVos, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The commission has no members that represent parents, teachers, schools, states, or civil rights groups. The timeline for the issuance of the commission’s findings and final report are at this time unclear, but the commission is expected to move quickly to finish its work after hosting its final public listening session this week.

ESSA Funds to Buy Guns for Teachers?
Reports surfaced last week that US ED, as part of its efforts around school safety, is also considering whether to allow states to use federal funds to purchase guns for teachers. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) contains a grant program called the “Student Support and Academic Enrichment Program,” that, unlike other grant programs in the law, does not expressly prohibit the purchase of firearms. President Trump has been vocal in recent months about his belief that arming teachers would increase school safety. It is unclear at this time whether the Federal Commission on School Safety will consider this proposal in its final report.

 

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