A move by the Trump administration to rescind Obama-era school discipline guidance intended to protect students from discrimination won’t necessarily change how local schools discipline their students.
“No, we do not plan on making any changes based on those evolving policies,” said Christy Bryce, director of intervention for Warren County Public Schools.
Last month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revoked guidance on the federal civil rights law jointly issued by President Obama’s Education and Justice Departments in 2014.
Although the guidance didn’t carry the force of law, it suggested schools could violate federal civil rights law if they punished students of color at higher rates than their white classmates, even if policies weren’t written with the intent to discriminate, Education Week reported.
Federal data shows that black and Latino students are disciplined at higher rates than their white peers, and the guidance stipulated that schools needed to address that.
The decision to rescind the guidance was backed by a school safety commission formed under DeVos following the deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last year.
According to Education Week, the commission found the guidance too “heavy-handed” and stifling to local decision-making.
However, administrators in Warren County Public Schools and the Bowling Green Independent School District told the Daily News the change won’t necessarily affect their approaches to school discipline.
Bryce said Warren County Public Schools makes equity in its discipline practices a priority, and “will continue to be regardless of current federal policy changes.”
“Our focus is on being proactive and teaching students rather than just reactive and punitive in our responses to student behaviors,” she said.
Bryce stressed the school district’s efforts to disaggregate student data, study patterns among student groups and have discussions about the role bias can play in school discipline. She said the school district will continue training staff in cultural proficiency, relationship building and appropriate discipline methods.
The district has also implemented a discipline “matrix” that promotes consistency and equity across the district’s schools.
“It is a guide for schools on how to respond to challenging behaviors displayed by students,” she said.
Skip Cleavinger, the district’s director of English learner programs, chairs Warren County Public Schools’ Equity Council. He said the district has been working on these efforts since before the guidance was even issued in 2014.
Bowling Green Independent School District Superintendent Gary Fields said his school district will continue evaluating student data regardless of the guidance being rescinded.
“We’re going to keep evaluating that data just like we have been,” he said, adding it’s become standard practice in many Kentucky school districts.
“If you’re a school district not looking at that information, then you’re not being a very effective school district,” Fields said.
He added that his district has also changed its approach to discipline so as to not detract from a student’s school experience.
“If they’re suspended, they’re not in school getting that education. If they’re in an in-school suspension, they’re not in class getting that education,” he said. “Those things are self-perpetuating … we have to look at other ways to address those issues.”