The Raging Debate on Obama’s School Discipline Policy

There is currently a raging debate going on in Washington, D.C. as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is considering the fate of former President Barack Obama’s school discipline policy.

This policy, which effectively ordered schools throughout the nation to either make sure that African-American and disabled students were not disciplined more often than other students or face loss of federal funding and/or a federal investigation, has been welcomed by civil rights organizations, teacher unions and many teachers and parents. However, a large number of both parents and teachers fear that it is making schools less safe and creating an educational environment that makes it impossible for children who want to learn to do so.

There is no doubt that students from certain groups are disciplined more often than others. An analysis conducted by the Education Department several years ago revealed that African-American students are three times more likely to be suspended and expelled from school than their white counterparts. Disabled students are twice as likely to receive an out of school suspension as students who do not have a disability.

Given the fact that the study analyzed poor and affluent schools all over the country, there are likely a number of reasons why certain students are disciplined more often than others. Some schools have strict rules and wind up severely disciplining students over minor offenses. In some schools, teachers have very large groups and are thus inclined to lash out at students over non-violent offenses such as disrespect or rowdy behavior. Sadly, racism does exist and may very well be a factor in some instances; however, taking the approach that all schools across the United States are staffed by racist teachers and principals who are “out to get” certain students is not a realistic approach to the problem.

Even so, the Obama administration essentially took this stance by mandating that schools stick to statistical quotas when disciplining children. This meant, for instance, that if a school had a student body that was 50% African-American, then African-American students could not account for more than 50% of all disciplinary issues.

The results of this rule were predictable to anyone who is familiar with the public school system. Teachers and principals began to back down and avoid disciplining students who were rowdy, disruptive or even downright violent out of fear of facing legal action. Federal data shows that just a year after the Obama administration’s new school guidelines, the number of physical attacks against teachers rose to more than 160,000. At the same time, fewer than 130,000 were expelled from school. This means that over 30,000 violent students were allowed to remain in their classrooms and continue to pose a threat to educators and fellow students alike.

In fact, former President Obama’s discipline policy may very well have made it possible for Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz to obtain weapons and slaughter 17 fellow students. In other, less serious instances, schools’ fear of disciplining minority students has created a poor learning atmosphere that makes it hard for children and teens who want to learn to do so. Such an atmosphere also causes more students to act out as they realize they will face few or no consequences for doing so.

It is unknown at this time if or when the Education Department will eliminate the Obama-era school guidance. When DeVos met with supporters and opponents of the school guidelines, she reportedly spent most of the meetings listening to the opinions being shared rather than expressing her own thoughts on the matter. However, what can be said for certainty is that blanket guidelines from a government more interested in stats than real solutions will not solve the many disciplinary problems that schools face today.

Public schools are complex organizations filled with students of all ages and racial, economic and social backgrounds. Perhaps it would be best to allow concerned educators and parents in each school district to assess their own problems and come up with solutions that would work best in their own communities instead of attempting to dictate a “one size fits all” solution to what is a complex, multi-faceted problem.

~ Liberty Planet