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VIDEO: Rubio Continues to Press Education Dept on Obama-Era School Discipline Guidelines
Washington, D.C. – At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) questioned Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about concerns with Obama-era school discipline guidelines that can discourage schools from reporting students to local law enforcement for certain violent acts. The federal guidelines mirror Broward County Schools’ discipline policies that may have been part of the systematic breakdown that failed to stop the Parkland gunman before the attack.
In April, Rubio urged the Education and Justice Departments to review Broward County School District’s school discipline policies and whether the Obama-era guidelines stem from Broward County, as well as escalating crime in the community since Broward’s discipline policies were implemented. In March, Rubio urged the Departments to revise the Obama Administration directive to “ensure that schools appropriately report violence and dangerous actions to local law enforcement.” Rubio also introduced the ABCs in School Discipline Act to ensure that no federal funds are used to establish school discipline policies that intentionally discourage schools from reporting certain dangerous student behavior to law enforcement.
A video of the exchange is available here. A rough transcript of the exchange is below:
Rubio: One of the things that struck me in the aftermath of Parkland was even before the authorities had released the name of the shooter, all the students knew who it was. Everybody knew who it was without even seeing it. We now know, for example, that this student, this killer had been suspended 67 days in a single year for things like bringing bullets to campus, claiming that he sold knives at school, drawing swastikas and hate speech on his book bag, a series of other offenses. Any number of which, including off campus, would have had him formally reported to law enforcement and in turn added to the NICS system that would have prevented him from purchasing a firearm. As your department has reviewed the school discipline policies nationally, and in particular in Broward County, what do we know to this point about the school discipline policy in Broward or nationally?
DeVos: Thanks for the question, Senator. As you know, this policy is part of the menu of items that the school safety commission is charged with considering. We are looking at and evaluating the policy. Clearly the goal of the policy, to ensure that no student is discriminated against in a discipline situation, is a valid and noble goal, and we certainly embrace that. The question is, is the policy doing harm in some way? And we’re in the middle of reviewing that and considering that, and it will be part of the work of this commission to come out with a result and recommendation.
Rubio: And indeed, the goal is to prevent school discipline policies from having an unfair impact, for example, on minority students. I agree with that. I know no one wants to see minority students disproportionately or unfairly impacted. Do we know that as a direct result of the guidance, has the department found any schools or school districts that have discipline policies that violate civil rights?
DeVos: We’re in the process of reviewing that, and I don’t have anything to add at this moment about it but will soon.
Rubio: Do we know how many have been investigated for potential violations leading up to your time in the department?
DeVos: I don’t have that specific number now, but I can get that to your office.
Rubio: All right. I guess my last question is, clearly the intent of the school discipline guidance that was issued under the previous administration could not have been meant to prevent teachers from reporting a student to law enforcement when the student commits an act that may result in them being prohibited from legally purchasing a firearm. Clearly that should not be the intent of the policy, you would agree?
DeVos: I would agree.
Rubio: And the reason why I bring that up, and I hope to encourage you to be supportive of it – we might have shared it with your office already, but it’s legislation that I’ve introduced called the ABCs in School Discipline Act. It would provide clear guidance on this, that the discipline policy of our school district should in no way prevent teachers from reporting a student to law enforcement when the student commits an act that may result in them being prohibited from legally purchasing a firearm later on for obvious reasons. So I hope that’s something that we can put in place so that something like this may never, ever happen again.