Betsy DeVos: Dept. Of Ed To Review Obama-Era School Discipline Reform Policy

Kerry Picket Political Reporter
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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told CBS’s “60 Minutes” Sunday Night that the Obama-era school discipline reform policy is now under review.

“We are studying that rule. We need to ensure that all students have an opportunity to learn in a safe and nurturing environment. And all students means all students,” DeVos told host Lesley Stahl.

Stahl reacted, “Yeah but let’s say there’s a disruption in the classroom and a bunch of whites kids are disruptive and they get punished, you know, go see the principal, but the black kids are, you know, they call in the cops. I mean, that’s the issue: who and how the kids who disrupt are being punished.”

DeVos responded, “Arguably, all of these issues or all of this issue comes down to individual kids.”

Stahl disagreed.

DeVos replied, “It does come down to individual kids. And–often comes down to–I am committed to making sure that students have the opportunity to learn in an environment that is conducive to their learning.”

Stahl asked, “Do you see this disproportion in discipline for the same infraction as institutional racism?”

“We’re studying it carefully. And are committed to making sure students have the opportunity to learn in safe and nurturing environments,” said DeVos.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel rejected the idea that a 2013 Obama Department of Education policy, intended to prevent minority students from being arrested in public schools for misdemeanor violations and implemented in the school district, may have contributed to the deadly Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting late last month.

“The school has the ability under certain circumstances not to call the police, not to get the police involved on misdemeanor offenses and take care of it within the school. It’s an excellent program,” Israel told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Feb. 25, “It’s helping many, many people. What this program does is not put a person at 14, 15, 16 years old into the criminal justice system.”

Known as a PROMISE agreement, Broward County struck a deal with the Department of Education that ceased school-based arrests based on “minor misbehavior.” The policy aimed to “reduce exclusionary disciplinary practices while implementing prevention and intervention programs for children and youth who are neglected, delinquent or at-risk.”

These violations included alcohol consumption, drug related abuses, bullying, harassment, and assault. Although the number of student arrests plunged 63 percent by the 2015-2016 school year in Broward, The Washington Post reported,  critics of the policy like The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden say law enforcement and school district were just turning a blind eye to the escalating behavioral problems in the school to keep their arrest numbers down. (RELATED: Obama-Era Education Policy Questioned After Parkland Shooting)

More evidence has emerged showing accused Stoneman Douglas Shooter Nikolas Cruz was reported to have multiple red flags raised about him over the years that became so serious, by high school some teachers did not want to be in a classroom alone with him, The Boston Globe reported.

According to The Miami Herald, as a response to Cruz’s escalating emotionally violent behavior, in 2014 he was sent to an alternative schooling facility for troubled youth, where he revealed to a therapist that he envisioned himself in a dream covered in human blood. Cruz did not remain in this setting, though. He was transferred back to Marjory Stoneman in 2016 and expelled one year later.

Cruz’s disciplinary record never included an intervention of some sort by law enforcement, despite tips given to the FBI about him documenting wanting to become “a professional school shooter” or a caller concerned that he was “going to explode” and get “into a school and just” start “shooting the place up.”

Democrats on Capitol Hill claim the Obama-era policy “had nothing to do with” the Cruz shooting. Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a member of the Health Education Labor and Pension Committee said, “The school discipline processes had nothing to do with why law enforcement didn’t intervene.”

Virginia Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott met with Sec. DeVos back in January in an effort to urge DeVos to keep the policy pushed by the NAACP.

“I strongly urged the Secretary to maintain the 2014 School Discipline Guidance Package. States and school districts need the tools and resources provided by this guidance package to ensure compliance with federal education and civil rights laws which require that they identify and address any racial bias in discipline policies and practices,” Scott said in a statement at the time.

Like Murphy, Scott strongly disagreed the policy contributed to Cruz shooting and killing 17 students and faculty at his former high school, while Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson claims law enforcement probably missed Cruz “because of his socioeconomic status.” She continued, “That’s what happens in everyday life. It’s not anything new. He was wealthy. He was white. That wouldn’t have happened to a young man of color.”

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