By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Conservatives have been troubled by efforts by the Obama Administration to coerce states to adopt the controversial Common Core Curriculum. Now the Obama Administration is asking schools to adopt newly announced federal “guidelines” for school discipline.
U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R) from Alabama questioned the wisdom and appropriateness of the Federal government once again aggressively inserting itself into education policy matters that historically have been handled by states and local districts.
According to information provided by Rep. Roby’s office The Washington Post is reporting that the administration is proposing “$50 million in grants to more than 1,000 schools to train teachers and staff in research-based strategies aimed at improving student behavior and school climate.”
Congresswoman Roby said in a written statement, “Here we go again. Has the Department of Education learned nothing from messes created by ‘No Child Left Behind’ and ‘Race to the Top?’ The federal government should not be using grants and special treatment to coerce states and local districts to comply with what the Obama Administration thinks is best. After all, ‘guidelines’ have a way of quickly becoming entrenched policies.”
Rep. Roby continued, “Parents, teachers, and administrators in Alabama care deeply about ensuring a safe learning environment for students, and I know they welcome a conversation about improving discipline methods. But using federal tax dollars to try to force one-size-fits-all federal policies into schools is simply inappropriate.”
Rep. Roby, who has championed legislation to prohibit the use of federal funding grants and law waivers to shape state education policy, warned that these new guidelines may represent further attempts by the Obama Administration to coerce state and local school districts into adopting their preferred policies.
The new “guidelines” seek to reduce student suspensions for certain offenses, including “disruption” and “disrespect.”
The Obama administration is urging schools to abandon what they are calling overly zealous discipline policies.
The wide-ranging series of guidelines issued Wednesday in essence orders schools to adhere to the principle of fairness and equity in student discipline or face punishment if they don’t.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said, “A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct.”
Holder blames “zero-tolerance” policies that inject the criminal justice system into the resolution of problems. Zero tolerance policies often spell out uniform and swift punishment for offenses such as truancy, smoking or carrying a weapon. Violators can lose classroom time or become saddled with a criminal record.
According to reported federal government data, Black students in 2011-2012 were more than three times as likely as Whites to be expelled or suspended. Blacks are only 15% of the students, but more than a third of students suspended once are Blacks. 44% of those suspended more than once were Blacks. More than a third of the students expelled were Blacks.
The new orders from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan encourage schools to ensure that all school personnel are trained in classroom management, conflict resolution and approaches to de-escalate classroom disruptions. School personnel should understand that they are responsible for administering routine student discipline not security or police officers.
The Obama Administration recommendations advises schools to establish procedures on how to distinguish between disciplinary infractions that are best handled by school officials and those that are major threats to school safety and are handled by police or school security. The new guidelines encourage schools to collect and monitor data that security or police officers take to ensure nondiscrimination.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “We need to keep students in class where they can learn.”
Rep. Roby’s bill, the Defending State Authority Over Education Act of 2013, would prohibit the Secretary of Education from attempting to influence, incentivize, or coerce a state into adopting certain education policies or standards. The bill’s text was included in the Student Success Act, which passed the House this past July.
Rep. Roby is seeking a third term in the United States Congress representing Alabama’s Second Congressional District.