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Why Did the US Depts of Justice and Education Craft Policies Dictating Local/State Policies?

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Parkland Resident Calls for Immediate Suspension of Sheriff and School Board Superintendent

There have been calls for more gun legislation and the banning of certain types of firearms and accessories in the wake of the Parkland, FL school shooting.  There can be a rational discussion on whether this will eliminate future school violence or if it is a band-aid on a deeper issue on school safety.  The death of seventeen people by a disturbed former student is horrific and questions should be asked on how this happened and how we mitigate circumstances to thwart future attacks. Additionally, all Americans have the right and should always question how/why laws and policies have been enacted and if they are constitutional and effective.

In the authentic definition of diversity, all opinions on how to solve a problem should be heard and weighed against history and current research/data.  However in this particular conversation about Parkland, it has quickly become a call by many students against guns and the push for more gun control.   If one has a differing opinion or questions the wisdom of that agenda, that person is ridiculed with derogatory terms as the current definition of diversity in this conversation does not include any deviation from the gun control agenda.  A clip from Tucker Carlson as he talks about the student protest at Parkland:

Carlson wants to talk about how we make our laws.  It’s not to ignore what students say, it’s to take the conversation deeper and analyze how did we get to where we find ourselves and what legally can/should we do in the future.

Could such an attack have been prevented had not federal educational discipline policies been implemented at the high school? Expanding the discussion from solely we need tighter gun laws and more restrictions,  it is important to state the facts about the shooting: a clearly disturbed young man carried out this attack on his former schoolmates and teachers.  Questions:

  • How did the system allow him to fall between the cracks?
  • How is it that the school resource officer and three Broward County police officers did not engage the students even as they knew he had gun and was in the school?
  • How does the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which replaced No Child Left Behind direct states in their disciplinary policies for students? 
  • How do those disciplinary policies set forth from the Justice Department effect educational and judicial practices in public schools?

Reviewing facts: the previous administration was intent on reducing the number of suspensions/expulsions as children of color were disciplined at a higher rate than their white peers.  The ACLU’s School to Prison Pipeline states why public schools and juvenile justice systems must change.   The ACLU writes that the use of alternative schools, school resource officers, zero tolerance policies, and court involvement/juvenile delinquency centers were not always helpful to children and contributed to the school to prison pipeline:

The ACLU believes that children should be educated, not incarcerated. We are working to challenge numerous policies and practices within public school systems and the juvenile justice system that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline.

The (2014) Remarks of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Release of the Joint DOJ-ED School Discipline Guidance Package:

My thanks to CEO Edwards and President Dukes for their comments, and for that gracious introduction.

I thank you for your unwavering commitment to equal opportunity for all students and your leadership in rethinking school discipline in Maryland. And I’m so pleased to be joined here today by my good friend and colleague, Attorney General Holder.

The Attorney General and his team have been great partners in our work together to improve school climate and keep schools safe. I know this is a very personal issue for him–as it has been for me, and for the students we talked to just minutes ago at a roundtable here at Frederick Douglass.

We’re gathered here today to talk about school discipline—which, far too often, is not applied equitably or as effectively as it could be in our nation’s schools.

So today, the Departments of Education and Justice are joining together to release a guidance package on school discipline for a broad range of stakeholders–educators, principals, district administrators, school board members, charter school heads, school resource officers, counselors, social workers, parents, community leaders–and, importantly, students themselves.

Our school discipline package has several elements, but I’ll just highlight two important ones. The first is a Dear Colleague Letter from Catherine Lhamon and Jocelyn Samuels, who head the civil rights offices, respectively, at ED and DOJ.

Their joint letter provides information on how schools and districts can meet their legal obligations to administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

The remarks of Attorney General Eric Holder after Duncan’s speech.  From The Department of Justice:

As the Secretary indicated, the guidance we unveil this morning is the result of close and longstanding cooperation between the Departments of Justice and Education, as well as extensive research and collaboration with school leaders, educators, and parents. This guidance will assist school districts – and public elementary and secondary school teachers and administrators – in meeting their obligations under federal law to develop and implement disciplinary policies without discrimination.It will provide useful information for school resource officers, recommendations for evidence-based alternatives to exclusionary discipline, and fresh approaches for monitoring and addressing racial and other disparities. Even more critically, it will offer new tools for educators, policymakers, and parents to promote fair and effective practices that make schools not only safer, but more supportive and inclusive.

As we carry these efforts into the future, this new guidance will enable us to build on the unprecedented steps that this Administration has already made possible when it comes to reforming counterproductive disciplinary policies – and disrupting the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline.” Together, over the last five years, the Departments of Justice and Education have worked closely with school districts throughout America to fulfill their obligations under key federal laws – including Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the landmark Equal Educational Opportunities Act – to administer discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, or language status. And Secretary Duncan and I came together in 2011 to launch the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, which is helping to foster dialogue and build consensus among essential stakeholders at every level – bolstering our ability to measure progress, to assess the effectiveness of alternative policies, and to share best practices from coast to coast.

According to The Southern Poverty Law Center, the adoption of ESSA encouraged school districts to take a look at their disciplinary policies.  According to this democrats-edworkforce/house/gov document, the change in disciplinary policies is not encouraged, it’s required:

What have been some of the effects of these policies in St. Paul, Minnesota?  Then Superintendent Silva (whose contract was eventually bought out for $800,000) was a passionate proponent of racial-equity education, and the district early adopted (2011) racial-equity policies which mirrored much of what Duncan and Holder stated in their speech in 2014.  Several years after these policies were enacted, what has occurred in this school district?  From No Thug Left Behind (2017):

“We are seeing more violence and more serious violence,” warned Steve Linders, a St. Paul police spokesman. “Fights at schools that might have been between two individuals are growing into fights between several individuals or even melees involving up to 50 people.” In September, a massive brawl erupted at Como Park High School. Police had to call for backup, as “the scene became very chaotic with many people fighting,” Linders said. “These are not . . . a couple of individuals squaring off with the intent of solving their private dispute,” teacher Roy Magnuson told the Pioneer Press. “These are kids trying to outnumber and attack.” In October 2015, 30 to 40 students clashed in a stairwell at Humboldt High School. Police tried to break up the brawl, as staff strained to hold a door closed to prevent dozens of students from forcing their way through to join the fight.

To cut black discipline referrals, Silva lowered behavior expectations and dropped serious penalties for misconduct.

As the school year progressed, some high schools increasingly came to resemble war zones. Teachers suffered injuries while resisting classroom invasions or intervening in fights; police were compelled to Taser a disruptive student; and one teen brought a loaded gun to school, saying that he needed it to defend himself against rival gang members. At Harding High School, teacher Becky McQueen found her own solution to the chaos. McQueen—who had been threatened with death and shoved into a shelf by classroom interlopers—told City Pages that, to keep invaders out, she now asks her students to use a “secret knock” to enter her classroom.

At the federal level, the Obama administration also made “racial equity” in school discipline a top priority. In January 2014, the Departments of Education and Justice issued a “Dear Colleague” letter, laying out guidelines intended to compel school districts to adopt Silva-style discipline policies. Currently, federal investigations are under way in districts around the country. Some districts have entered into consent decrees; the feds threatened to sue others or withhold funds if their racial numbers didn’t pass muster. Federal officials have seemed unconcerned that violence and disorder have followed implementation of racial-equity-inspired discipline policies—not only in St. Paul but also in districts such as Oklahoma City and New York.

How does this relate to what recently occurred in Parkland?  A twitter user by the name of The Last Refuge provides numerous documentation on how the marriage of judicial and educational policies may have allowed/created the perfect storm of mayhem.  The link to the thread may be found here, if you are not a twitter user, the tweets are below.  The links primarily consist of governmental documents or have governmental documentation embedded in the articles:

Do you know about the agreements your school district has signed onto with any Federal, state or local educational/judicial agency?  Is your school abiding by the ESSA requirements?  How is your school board implementing the plans for your district?  Are disruptive students allowed to stay in the system for serious infractions and are local law enforcement officials reluctant to take action for fear of negating some agreements allowing such behavior to continue in the school?

Can we debate the wisdom of the mandated reforms the federal agencies have implemented for schools to the detriment of the majority of the students?  Can we review the research and data on this policy set forth by Duncan and Holder and determine if it met its goal or should it be dismantled?  Was it a worthwhile goal or should other goals replace those of Duncan and Holder?  Should the “Dear Colleague” Letter be the basis for disciplinary policy by local school districts and law enforcement agencies?  Should the Justice Department and law officials be entering into agreements with states and local districts so reporting numbers do not negatively impact law enforcement and the school district?  Does some of what happened, or didn’t happen in Parkland now make more sense?  It’s not only that we have a cultural problem, we have a systemic problem in which our children and adults have been compromised for a flawed theory in the name of political correctness.

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