• by Morgan Craven, J.D. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2019 •
In response to the violent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last year, President Trump appointed the Federal Commission on School Safety, comprised of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielson. The president tasked the commission to provide recommendations on improving school safety. In December 2018, the commission issued its final report.
The report contains some research-based suggestions for improving school climates, including expanding in-school supports for students. But it also features several recommendations that would actually harm young people, particularly those most vulnerable to discrimination in their schools.
One of the most troublesome recommendations is that the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education rescind Obama-era guidance that was issued in 2014 to address race-based discrimination in school discipline. The Obama Administration’s guidance did not create new law; rather it advised school districts on how to comply with existing civil rights laws and regulations prohibiting racially discriminatory practices in schools as they relate to exclusionary discipline, such as suspension or placement in an alternative school.
The guidance also advises school districts on best practices for creating safe, supportive school environments for all students. The guidance was informed by extensive literature reviews, input from advocates and experts, and conversations with students, parents and educators most impacted by school discipline and climate policies.
The commission’s recommendations follow a disturbing trend in “school safety” policy. Too many decision-makers will ignore what true safety looks like for all students in order to adopt extreme security measures that can actually compromise the wellbeing of young people.
Research tells us that extreme security and surveillance measures are not only expensive and ineffective but also can make schools feel less safe for students and educators (Schreck & Miller, 2003). These extreme measures are more likely to be taken in schools with higher concentrations of students of color, often with no relationship actual security concerns (Nance, 2017).
Increased security, surveillance and law enforcement in schools, adopted in the name of “school safety,” can actually push students into the school-to-prison pipeline, which makes them less safe. This is particularly true for students of color, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students, who are already more likely than their peers to have contact with the punitive discipline system in their schools.
The focus on school security and hardening is not for a lack of alternatives. There are many research- and evidence-based approaches that improve school climate, reduce incidents of targeted school violence, and protect students from discriminatory discipline practices. Schools must spend energy and resources on these approaches, rather than on others that are not only ineffective but harm students.
Federal Commission on School Safety. (2018). Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety. U.S. Departments of Education, Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services.
Nance, J. (2017). “Student Surveillance, Racial Inequalities, and Implicit Racial Bias,” Emory Law Journal.
Schreck, C.J., & Miller, J.M. (2003). “Sources of Fear of Crime at School: What Is the Relative Contribution of Disorder, Individual Characteristics, and School Security?” Journal of School Violence.
Morgan Craven, J.D., is the IDRA National Director of Policy. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2019, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2019 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]