Betsy DeVos Wants to Roll Back Critical Guidance on School Discipline

Once again, Betsy DeVos is attempting to rescind Obama-era guidance on education issues. This time, she’s proposing a rollback of guidelines developed to reduce racialized discipline disparities in schools.

Black and brown children — especially if they are disabled — are disproportionately subjected to discipline in schools.

And critics argue that this reality feeds the school-to-prison pipeline – sometimes very directly. Schools may refer students to law enforcement for discipline, and some may keep armed officers on campus as “security.” When kids are targeted for suspension and expulsion at higher rates, the disadvantage often spills over into adulthood.

The Obama guidelines focused on moving away from punitive measures and developing more positive approaches to behavioral problems on campus. The federal government argued that discipline disparities constitute a civil rights violation and that schools need to take measures to ensure students are treated equally — regardless of gender, race or disability status. They also placed a heavy emphasis on keeping students in school and promoting safe, supportive learning environments — not referring students elsewhere for discipline.

This policy shift is taking place alongside the national gun violence debate, and that’s not a coincidence. Some “law and order” conservatives believe that having armed officers –  or teachers – in schools will make it easier to respond to gun violence, keeping children safer. They also argue that tough disciplinary protocol, like the zero tolerance policies that tend to create extreme racial disparities, can improve school safety.

But if these guidelines are overturned, schools won’t have access to the wealth of resources that were previously included. That’s unfortunate, as the Department of Education worked extensively to create tools that could connect people with information and organizations for support when changing their disciplinary practices. In addition to mitigating racial disparities, these shifts in thinking about discipline were also designed to help struggling kids stay in school, rather than abandoning them to the legal system.

Schools are using principles like trauma-informed care, restorative justice and positive behavioral interventions and supports to meet students where they are when discipline problems arise. These measures focus on learning why students are acting out and working together to develop a solution that resolves the problem. This approach can help the student deal with underlying issues, while protecting the safety and functionality of the learning environment. Using these tools can generate very real results, and the Department of Education proposal could set districts back in time.

Of course, Betsy DeVos isn’t the only one looking to school discipline to resolve the gun problem. Senator Marco Rubio just introduced a bill that would penalize school districts that maintain a policy of not reporting disciplinary actions to law enforcement unless it’s strictly necessary. Such districts have taken this approach in order to reduce the risk of negative interactions between students and law enforcement, arguing that they can handle most basic discipline needs on campus, while still leaving crimes to police.

Of course, the real solution to the crisis of U.S. gun violence, including school shootings, doesn’t lie with schools and how they make disciplinary decisions. It lies in the ready availability of weapons capable of discharging large numbers of high velocity rounds very quickly — and a refusal by Congress to take action.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore


Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Danuta W
Danuta W10 months ago

Thank you for sharing

Margie F
Margie FOURIE11 months ago


Megan S
Megan S11 months ago

I'm all for positive reinforcement in teaching children, especially younger ones. But there comes a point when students are so disruptive that they are affecting the education of the whole class and wasting their own time. Staff need to have the flexibility to deal with these situations properly. After all, the real world is much more unforgiving than the average school teacher and young people need to be prepared.

Karen Swenson
Karen S11 months ago

@Paul B--"Welfare is not how you get out of poverty" is the dumbest thing I have heard. What is, Paul--- living on the streets in cardboard boxes like third world people do. I have known many single Moms, through Welfare, who were able to get an education from welfare loans, which they paid back after securing a job. Welfare helped pay for day-care and housing. These women were able to secure good paying jobs and have paid back many times in taxes the help they received from Welfare. They are and have been completely self sufficient after getting much needed assistance from the government. Do you know any single mothers, or is this some conservative idiocy you have bought into? It is a well known and documented FACT that if you give women reproductive rights, a handful of seeds, and a small loan the floor of her whole village raises up. It is a well known fact also, that teaching abstinence only, denying birth control/abortion, refusing assistance of any kind, keeps people ignorant, unhealthy and criminally poor.

Amanda M
Amanda M11 months ago

Let's not forget about the REAL reason for so many school shootings-the US's attitude towards victims of bullying! How many of these shooters were bullied until they finally snapped and got NO HELP WHATSOEVER from the schools they attended? How many victims of bullying were BLAMED for being bullied or were punished when they finally fought back themselves by means other than guns? How many cyberbullies are actually caught and/or held accountable? How many bullies are actually PUNISHED? That and our mental health care system are f*cking JOKES!

Karin Hanson
Karin H11 months ago

This obnoxious, ignorant, useless Twit is a total waste of taxpayers' $$$. Obviously, all her $$$millions couldn't buy her a brain, just a seat at DumbDonald's table.

Winn A
Winn A11 months ago

DeVos is a blight on America

Winn A
Winn A11 months ago


Paul B
Paul B11 months ago

Karen, I am blaming the men as much or more for not being more responsible. Most women who raise single kids is not their fault... most, not all. And without a firm hand from a father, these teenage kids run all over their mother if they want to. Not all do, but those who lack the right parental control will. Yes it is a responsibility of the fathers to raise their sons to be good, respectful, responsible kids... even those in poor families. Yes poverty is a factor as well, but welfare is not how you get out of poverty... it takes an active effort to do the right things, be responsible for you actions, even at a young age. but even that doesn't always work, but it definitely increases the odds of success. That is what needs to be taught to these kids who are acting up in school. Plus it isn't right for the other kids to be harmed, educationally, while the "system" gives SPECIAL treatment to those that are disruptive. It is a systemic problem within the poorer communities and the educational system in general.