It’s been a month since the devastating school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and with the national gun debate heating up and major protests like the National School Walkout, conservative commentators and the Trump administration are looking for someone to blame. Now, The New York Times reports, Trump is pointing his finger at Barack Obama- or rather a guidance document created by the former president to reduce suspensions and expulsions of minority students.
This Feb. 19, 2018 file photo shows Denyse Christian, hugging her son Adin Christian, 16, a student at the school, at a makeshift memorial outside the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and faculty were killed in a mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
While nation shaking mass shootings have not been committed by Black students, the Trump administration is arguing the reining in of disciplinary efforts could let a murderer slip through the proverbial cracks.
This week the president drew the connection between the disciplinary plan protecting minority students when he announced that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will lead a school safety commission that will examine the “repeal of the Obama administration’s ‘Rethink School Discipline’ policies.”
Civil rights activists are not surprised by Trump’s deflection about mass shootings and the national gun debate.
“Yet again, the Trump administration, faced with a domestic crisis, has responded by creating a commission to study an unrelated issue in order to ultimately advance a discriminatory and partisan goal,” Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., told the The New York Times.
Since Rethink School Discipline was proposed it has been a major topic of controversy among lawmakers, citizens, and those who work in education.
As racial bias was well documented in school suspensions and expulsions, the Obama-era policy gained a lot of support from civil rights activists, concerned parents and citizens, and teachers and administrators who have seen firsthand the harm that comes with the discrimination of removing minority students out of the classroom.
Yet conservatives are convinced Rethink School Discipline is putting students in more danger.
“Evidence is mounting that efforts to fight the school-to-prison pipeline is creating a school climate catastrophe and has if anything put at-risk students at greater risk,” said Max Eden, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, told The New York Times. Eden argues teacher bias had nothing to do with school discipline.
When Obama first issued Rethink School Discipline, federal data reported that Black students without disabilities were more than three times as likely as their white counterparts to be expelled or suspended. Further, the report found that Hispanics and African Americans accounted for 50 percent of students who were involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement.
Moreover, since Obama’s initial investigation, DeVos’ own administration has continued to uncover racial disparities, such as in November when the Education Department found that a California school was doling out harsher treatment to Native American students than their white associates.
In the case of Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, while it is known that he was repeatedly kicked out of class and eventually expelled, it is unclear if he was ever actually referred to law enforcement because of his behavior in school. Nonetheless, the police knew about Cruz and never arrested him, and a report about his worrisome behavior given to the F.B.I. was overlooked.
While Marco Rubio said the school district’s disciplinary policies was the reason for Cruz’s rampage, Robert Runcie, Broward County superintendent, said that connection was imprudent.
“We’re not going to dismantle a program that’s been successful in the district because of false information that someone has put out there,” Runcie wrote on Twitter. “We will neither manage nor lead by rumors.”