Parents, Teachers Sick of School Chaos Look to Betsy Devos to Erase Obama Discipline Rule

Valerie Richardson, Washington Times, April 3, 2018

What the Obama-era discipline guidance has taught Nicole Landers is that your kids can be bullied, roughed up, even sexually assaulted, and the school won’t do a whole heck of a lot about it.

The Maryland mother said two of her sons have been picked on and threatened, while her 11-year-old daughter was repeatedly groped over the course of several months by a classmate. Even so, Ms. Landers said the boy was never suspended.

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She and her daughter, a Baltimore County Public Schools student, plan to share their experience at Wednesday’s school safety commission roundtable in Washington with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who’s considering rescinding the Obama administration’s 2014 Dear Colleague letter urging schools to lighten up on discipline.

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While the guidance has been credited with lowering suspensions, expulsions and arrests at a number of K-12 districts, it’s also been blamed for schools that are more chaotic and dangerous as officials seek to curb discipline rates in order to avoid triggering a federal investigation.

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“She’s not an outlier at all. I’ve heard many, many cases. I have teachers and parents calling me on the phone regularly, crying,” said Ms. Miller. “I would say every couple of weeks there’s a student video of violent attacks in BCPS that’s posted on social media, or a news report. We see this regularly.”

DeVos, in her role as chair of the Trump administration’s newly formed Commission on School Safety, will also hear Wednesday from teachers and education advocates who argue that the federal guidance is needed to prevent minority and disabled students from winding up in the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

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The department “must continue to highlight the disparities that exist in school discipline, investigate districts where those disparities may be caused by bias, and support the implementation of strategies to reduce punitive discipline,” he said in a statement.

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Gary Favors, a high school teacher in the Cincinnati Public Schools attending the summit, took issue with the argument that racism is driving higher minority suspension rates.

“That’s bull,” said Mr. Favors, who’s black. “I’m in an urban setting. They’re not being discriminated against. Their behaviors are what I would call off the chain, and we need to address how to deal with those behaviors.”

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“What I want to tell the secretary is that in public school, we have to take everybody who walks in the door. I understand that,” said Mr. Favors. “But if you’re going to tie my evaluation to these state tests, by God, I’m going to have some say-so on who comes in my room, and if they’re disruptive and causing havoc, they’re not going to stay in my classroom.”

For some school districts, however, rowdier classrooms may be a price worth paying in order to fend off a civil-rights probe and qualify for millions in federal grants.

Judy Kidd, president of the Classroom Teachers Association of North Carolina, said she’s seen teachers injured and classrooms trashed in recent years as students figure out that schools are reluctant to bring down the hammer on bad behavior.

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Not all teachers are willing to speak up for fear of losing jobs, said Ms. Landers, who has collected dozens of horror stories from the trenches, including statements from educators who wish to remain anonymous.

“They’re just terrified that word will get out and they’ll lose their jobs and their teaching licenses,” said Ms. Landers. “They are threatened. They experience retaliation. [They fear] they’ll be subject to unscheduled classroom supervision and the administration will mark out teaching issues and then terminate them.”In February, she and her husband Josh Landers founded the Parent2Parent Network aimed at bringing parents together from across the nation to discuss and address “the school violence crisis.”

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