The Trump administration has rescinded documents meant to guide schools in handling discipline, turning back an Obama-era effort aimed at reducing widespread racial disparities in how students are suspended, expelled and otherwise punished, the Washington Post reports. The move by the Education and Justice departments was made official Friday. On Tuesday, the Federal Commission on School Safety recommended that the guidance be revoked, citing concerns over its legal foundation. The guidance put school systems on notice that they could be violating federal civil rights law if students of color were disciplined at higher rates than white students. It offered suggestions for alternatives to discipline that could foster positive school climates.
In its report, the school safety commission criticized the guidance as an example of federal overreach and said it had created unsafe school environments by allowing bad behavior to go unpunished. The report attacked the legal principle of “disparate impact” that the guidance relied on — that discrimination can be proved by examining the effects of policies and not just the intention. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who chaired the safety commission, said she had heard from teachers that the guidance led to discipline decisions being made based on a student’s race and that “statistics became more important than the safety of students and teachers.” The decision was met with sharp opposition from Democrats, civil rights advocates and others. Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), who will chair the House Education Committee next year, said the move will undermine efforts to give all students a quality education. The Education Department did not publish information on how schools could deal with difficult situations or create programs that foster a positive school environment to combat discipline problems. A spokeswoman said the department is will provide more “supportive documents” based on the commission’s recommendations.