Changes Loom for School Discipline Guidance

The Issue:

In 2011, the Obama Administration iissued a series of guidance documents describing how the United States Department of Education (US ED) and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) would be approaching their enforcement of laws prohibiting discrimination in schools on the basis of disability status and laws prohibiting discrimination in schools on the basis of race and national origin. These guidance documents specifically concerned school discipline practices and explained how the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the United States Department of Education (US ED) would be analyzing data and conducting investigations into potentially discriminatory discipline practices by schools and districts. The Trump administration has indicated its willingness to rescind these guidance documents, but has not clearly articulated a timeline for the rescission, a process for deliberation, nor what, if anything, would replace the rescinded guidance.

Supporters of the guidance welcome US ED taking a closer look at the potentially discriminatory impact of school discipline policies on students of color and/or on students with disabilities. Critics of the guidance believe it puts the safety of teachers and administrators at risk by making it more difficult to suspend dangerous students, and that it creates an incentive for schools to develop a “racial quota” approach to student discipline.

It is within the powers of US ED Secretary Betsy DeVos to revoke the current school discipline guidance at any time and without prior public notification.


The Process:

On Wednesday of last week, US ED Secretary Betsy DeVos convened a “School Safety and Climate Summit” that was closed to press coverage and did not appear on the Secretary’s published schedule. The “Summit” consisted of two separate sessions with supporters and opponents of the current guidance on anti-discriminatory practices in school discipline, each lasting approximately 90 minutes. It was not entirely clear prior to the Summit precisely what groups and individuals had been invited to participate. The summit was one of a series of meetings that DeVos has held with members of the public regarding the impact of the current discipline guidance. US ED has not given any details as to when or how it may rescind or replace the guidance.

On the same day as the Summit, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office released a report on school discipline showing that black students continue to be overrepresented by a wide margin in the rates at which they are suspended from school.

Additionally, in response to the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, President Trump designated US ED Secretary Betsy DeVos as the leader of a new federal commission on school safety that is charged, in part, with examining the repeal of the Obama administration’s “Rethink School Discipline” policies. The commission met for the first time on March 28, 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.


Learn More:

Be a Part of the Process:

  • Get Informed: Read the White House’s Statement on the Federal Commission on School Safety and learn more on US ED’s website about US ED’s next steps on the discipline guidance and how and when the Commission will be taking input from the public.
  • Take Action: Make your opinions about these matters known by contacting US ED at Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-2311 to speak with your members of Congress about US ED’s approach to school discipline and how it will handle the Obama administration’s “Rethink School Discipline” policies.