Not in Safety Panel Report: Accounts of U.S. School Thuggery
Obama-era policies aimed at reducing racial disparities in school discipline outcomes and closing down the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline” were adopted not just by the district where the Parkland, Florida, school massacre occurred; more than 50 major school districts around the country also adopted them, and more than half the states revised their laws with the goal of reducing suspensions, expulsions and school arrests.
The consequences of those actions have quietly become clear. Witnesses testified last year before the Federal Commission on School Safety, convened after Parkland, that the new discipline policies have contributed to outbreaks of classroom violence in those other school districts as well.
But virtually none of this textimony made it into the commission's final report on school safety. RealClearInvestigations recently reviewed a collection of the written testimony and documents submitted to the panel detailing graphic accounts of classroom violence by undisciplined students, including assaults on teachers.
In Virginia Beach schools, for one, a school board member testified that, under the district’s new discipline system, teachers are instructed to keep even violent students in class and to avoid writing referrals to law enforcement.
The school official, Victoria Manning, submitted dozens of complaints she’s received from concerned teachers over the past few years. One wrote that a student was allowed to return to class after punching out his teacher. Another slugged a female security guard. Yet the “administration actively discourages teachers from writing referrals,” she said.
A Virginia Beach teacher, Laura Hughes, testified that students cussed her out, threw their district-issued Chromebook laptops, and even blocked her from using her phone to call security. She informed the commission that the district stopped writing referrals even for students "committing felonies." She said one aggressive boy taunted, “I can do what I want. Go ahead and call the office. They won’t do nothing.”
Parents told commissioners their own horror stories, which also never made it into the final report on school safety.
For example, Nicole Landers said all three of her children were bullied in Baltimore County Public Schools by classmates whom principals refused to punish. In the worst case, her 11-year-old daughter was repeatedly groped by a boy who also made sexual advances against other female students. Despite complaining about the boy, as did other parents, administrators told her that the boy had “rights too.”
In her two-page testimony to the commission, Landers wrote that the offending student was allowed to continue his sexual bullying "without consequence.” The next year, her daughter’s tormentor was placed at the same table with her in their sixth-grade class. Landers has since pulled all three of her children out of the Baltimore County school system.
Other panel witnesses, including teachers, union bosses and education policy experts, are disappointed their testimony offering specific examples of student violence at other school districts that adopted the policies also was left out of the commission report. They made it clear that the new disparate-impact-based approach to classroom discipline sweeping schools fails to hold bad kids accountable, and leaves them with the idea they can get away with more serious infractions, including violent acts.
Even a Trump-appointed panel could not completely break through the “tyranny of political correctness,” as one commission participant called it. In the end, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions blinked from citing the apparent contribution of race-based discipline policies to the horrific events of Feb. 14, 2018.
Still, DeVos did agree to withdraw the Obama-era guidelines undergirding such policies, which is a key change. Belated or not, the federal rule mandating the under-disciplining of bad kids has been removed from local decision-making.
As one Education Department official put it, "Better slowly moving in the right direction under Trump than quickly moving in the wrong direction under Obama.”