- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Trump administration on Tuesday proposed a plan to prevent school shootings that includes arming more school personnel, taking guns away from highly dangerous people and revoking Obama-administration rules that were criticized for easing discipline of minority students.

The president’s commission on school safety, which was formed after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, also calls on the media to stop publicizing the names and photographs of shooters to discourage other potential killers from seeking notoriety.

The panel’s long-awaited conclusions said minimum-age restrictions for firearm purchases do not reduce gun violence.

“School shooters do not frequently use legal purchase as a method for obtaining firearms,” the commission said in its report. “More often, they obtain them from within the home or steal them.”

President Trump held a roundtable discussion about the recommendations at the White House, a meeting that included survivors of the Parkland shooting, educators, victims’ relatives and elected officials.

“Nothing is more important than protecting our nation’s children,” the president said.

The commission, which was headed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, made nearly 100 policy recommendations for state and local governments to consider. She said there is no “one size fits all” solution to prevent school shootings, and no new federal spending is being proposed.

“Local problems need local solutions,” Mrs. DeVos said.

In a top recommendation for action, the administration moved Tuesday to revoke the Obama administration’s school-discipline guidance, a policy aimed at combating racial bias that has been blamed for fueling classroom chaos by pressuring schools to reduce expulsions, suspensions and arrests.

A senior administration official said because of those rules, teachers and students told the commission they were afraid of aggressive students “who were left unpunished or unchecked.”

“That’s the first recommendation the report makes, is to correct that problem,” the official said.

The Education and Justice departments proposed erasing the Dear Colleague with other components of the January 2014 “school discipline guidance package,” an approach aimed at keeping students in class and out of the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

The Obama administration issued the guidance to counter data showing that black students were more than three times as likely as white students to be suspended or expelled. The guidance warns that schools suspected of discrimination can face investigations and risk losing federal funding.

“The guidance sent the unfortunate message that the federal government, rather than teachers and local administrators, best handles school discipline,” the report said. “By telling schools that they were subject to investigation, and threatening to cut federal funding because of different suspension rates for members of different racial groups, the guidance gave schools a perverse incentive to make discipline rates proportional to enrollment figures, regardless of the appropriateness of discipline for any specific instance of misconduct.”

As a Charleston, South Carolina, teacher told the commission, “Once the kid finds out he can say ‘[expletive] you,’ flip over a table, and he won’t get suspended, that’s that.’”

Liberal groups and Democrats blasted the Trump administration’s move, arguing that the commission should have reacted by cracking down on firearms access, and accused the administration of paving the way for schools to punish minority and disabled students at higher rates. The Congressional Black Caucus called the report “a blatant affront to communities of color.”

“Its suggestion that federal civil rights enforcement — and not the prevalence of firearms –-— is to blame for school shootings is baseless and wrong,” the group said. “The use of a school tragedy to roll back Obama-era evidence-based guidance to curb discrimination in education is an outrage and will lead to more students of color being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline. Sending the message that schools are safest when they discriminate against students of color will encourage the further criminalization of non-criminal behavior — criminalization experienced daily by students living while black, whether it be while swimming at a pool, eating barbecue, sitting at a restaurant, babysitting, or merely walking home from school.”

However, support for ditching the guidance has grown among parents and teachers who insist that classrooms have become more dangerous as students realize there are few consequences other than counseling for disruptive behavior.

Opposition to the discipline policy spiked this year over revelations that the Parkland shooting suspect had been funneled to a diversion program instead of the court system despite his history of violent, threatening behavior.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in the shooting, enthusiastically endorsed the proposed policy change.

“I was ecstatic to hear these recommendations,” Mr. Pollack said in an email. “Rescind the policies that created the culture that allowed for my daughter to be murdered.”

Broward County Superintendent Robert W. Runcie, a former colleague of Obama education secretary Arne Duncan in Chicago, was an early advocate of restorative justice, signing in November 2013 the nation’s most ambitious program to keep troubled students in class.

Suspensions have since plummeted in Broward and many other districts, but schools have been accused of underreporting assaults, drug use and sex offenses to avoid triggering a federal civil-rights investigation.

In Florida, school districts for several years have hidden minor and major infractions by failing to report them to the state as required, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission voted 16-1 last week to recommend giving Florida school districts the option to arm faculty willing to carry firearms on campus and undergo training.

The option of arming more trained adults must rest with state and local governments, senior administration officials said. But they said it should be an option, especially in rural jurisdictions where the response time of local law-enforcement officials to a shooting could be longer than in other communities.

After the Parkland shooting, Mr. Trump advocated arming highly trained teachers and other school personnel, prompting an outcry from teachers who generally oppose the idea.

The commission also recommended the more frequent use of “extreme risk protection orders” by courts to confiscate firearms from people who are deemed a high risk of danger to themselves or to others. Gun-rights groups generally oppose such steps, and the senior administration official said the action must take into account an individual’s due process rights.

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