Four years ago, the Obama administration promulgated a Dear Colleague letter on school discipline. It was a joint Department of Justice/Department of Education production. More than a year into the Trump administration, the letter still stands.
The fault lies with Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education. The Justice Department under Jeff Sessions strongly supports recalling the Dear Colleague letter. I’m told, however, that the DOE is pushing back.
The DOE’s pushback is outrageous. To understand why, let’s review the stakes.
The Dear Colleague Letter applies a disparate impact analysis to school discipline. Its premise is that discipline should be meted out in the same proportion to students of all races. As Scott put it:
Under the policy, no teacher can send a misbehaving student to the principal without fear that her decision will be second-guessed by the federal government. Non-discriminatory treatment isn’t enough. DOJ/DoEd want to see equal results.
The Obama DOJ/DoEd policy is perverse. Education remains the pathway to success for minority group members. Education is undermined when unruly students disrupt the process. Thus, black students and their parents have a strong interest in the maintenance of classroom discipline.
The Dear Colleague letter is inconsistent with that interest. As I predicted, schools will try to comply by lowering disciplinary standards. Only the worst offenders will be disciplined. This won’t reduce racial disparities, it may actually increase them, but it will undermine classroom discipline. Learning will become more difficult.
This has come to pass. Katherine Kersten demonstrated that implementation of Obama administration’s vision produced rampant and serious misbehavior in the St. Paul school district. Teachers complained that some schools came to resemble “a war zone.”
One veteran elementary school teacher, who happens to be Black, stated that he witnessed “far worse” behaviors during the 2014-15 school year than in previous years. “On a daily basis, I saw students cussing at their teachers, running out of class, yelling and screaming in the halls, and fighting,” he recounted. School officials often failed to follow up when he referred kids for misbehavior. “I have since learned that this tactic is widely used throughout the district to keep the numbers of referrals and suspensions low,” he explained.
The teacher now works at a charter school.
Given the adverse impact on education that flows from Obama’s war on school discipline, the DOE should have led the charge to revoke the insidious Dear Colleague letter. Instead it is resisting.
I consider this resistance scandalous. The DOE needs to get on board.