Acclaimed teachers press DeVos to maintain Obama discipline guidance

Politico | Sep 12, 2018

Acclaimed teachers press DeVos to maintain Obama discipline guidance

By Caitlin Emma09/12/2018 12:09 PM EDT

A group of distinguished teachers sent Education Secretary Betsy DeVos a letter on Wednesday asking her not to rescind or weaken Obama-era guidelines on school discipline.

The teachers comprise a group called Leading Educator Ambassadors for Equity, a new initiative spearheaded by the Education Civil Rights Alliance, a coalition of civil rights advocacy groups convened by the National Center for Youth Law.

All 13 teachers who wrote the letter have either been awarded state teacher of the year or were finalists for the Global Teacher Prize, a $1 million award by the Varkey Foundation, a charitable organization focused on improving education for disadvantaged children.

“We want to tell you about some of our own children who need you to maintain this guidance to ensure that they can have opportunities to learn, achieve, and succeed,” the teachers wrote. “Jason, a 5-year old kindergarten student, was suspended for bumping into a friend at recess. No one sought to ask him any questions, as they punished him under the zero tolerance strict discipline policy. More disheartening was that the children in his classroom who displayed similar behavior, but who were not of color, were disciplined differently than he was.”

“As a matter of fact, in Jason’s school, students of color were four times more likely to be suspended than those who were not,” they continue. “In Jason’s school district, a concerned group of stakeholders were able to show the school board and those who set guidelines about school discipline the guidance and encourage them to move away from zero tolerance policies into restorative policies.”

Without the Obama guidance, the teachers said many students like Jason end up getting funneled into the criminal justice system.

The Obama directive, issued in 2014, sought to ensure that schools weren’t discriminating against students while disciplining them, seeking to curb out-of-school suspensions and expulsions when they disproportionately and unfairly affect minority students and students with disabilities.

The guidelines came under scrutiny from Republicans like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., for their potential to keep dangerous students in the classroom. DeVos chairs a White House school safety commission that’s weighing whether to scrap the Obama guidance.