President Trump’s new federal commission on school safety will consider repealing an Obama administration policy that discourages expelling or suspending unruly students due to concerns that such disciplinary actions unfairly target minorities.
The president’s school safety plan, released in detail Monday, said the commission, chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, will look at killing the Obama policy known as “Rethink School Discipline.”
President Obama’s approach to school discipline was announced in 2014 by then-Attorney General Eric Holder and then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The Obama Justice and Education departments advised school districts that disciplinary policies could constitute “unlawful discrimination” under federal civil rights law if they resulted in a “disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race.”
The approach was also incorporated into President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative that focused on providing mentorship and opportunities to minority boys and young men.
In recent years, large school districts have moved away from punishing misbehaving students with suspensions or expulsions, favoring ideas like “restorative justice” or programs that focus on the reasons why a student misbehaved.
In placing its sights on that policy, the Trump administration could be signaling that the time for such thinking has ended.
The proposal is among the president’s policy recommendations in the wake of last month’s shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and wounded 15 others.
The Justice Department unveiled other school safety proposals Monday night, including holding federal agencies accountable for failing to update the National Instant Criminal Background Check System; ordering the FBI to identify states that are not reporting arrests to state databases and more aggressive prosecution of individuals who lie on gun applications.
Another surprise is that Mr. Trump’s school safety commission intends to study “effects of press coverage on mass shootings,” according to the administration’s outline.
Some people in law enforcement and other professions believe that heavy media coverage of such tragedies encourages “copycat” attacks.
Two researchers at Western New Mexico University released a study in 2016 that said mass shootings have increased threefold since 2000, and that media coverage of shooters’ actions inspires others who also seek such “fame.” They asserted that at least one-third of such shootings could be prevented by more responsible reporting.
The researchers concluded that the best way to discourage mass shootings is not to name the shooters at all in the media, and to focus all the attention on the victims. In several recent tragedies, chief law-enforcement officials have refused to refer to a shooting suspect by name and beseeched the media not to report the killer’s identity.
In releasing his plan to prevent school shootings, Mr. Trump defended himself against heavy criticism from Democrats, the media and gun-control groups that he was abandoning a proposal to raise the age limit from 18 to 21 for purchasing certain rifles. The commission will examine that proposal, but Mr. Trump isn’t calling on Congress to pass a law raising the age limit.
“On 18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly),” the president tweeted Monday.
On Friday, The National Rifle Association sued Florida, which enacted a gun law that raised the age limit to 21.
Rep. Adam Schiff, California Democrat and a frequent Trump critic, tweeted, “Actually, Mr. President, there’s overwhelming political support for gun safety reform, including age limits, universal background checks, and an assault weapon ban. Like you said, too many Republicans are scared of the NRA — including, plainly, you.”
John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said Mr. Trump was caving to the National Rifle Association.
“It’s no surprise that after spending $30 million to get him elected, the NRA has already convinced the president to back away from common-sense policies he supported less than a week ago and instead support their dangerous dream of putting guns in schools,” he said, also blasting the president’s proposal to arm more teachers. “America’s teachers don’t want to carry and school safety experts agree it’s a reckless idea.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Mr. Trump still supports raising the age limit for purchasing certain long guns. But she said he wants to focus on other legislation that has more backing in Congress, including a bill to improve reporting to an FBI database of criminal convictions that is used to prevent prohibited felons from purchasing firearms.
“He hasn’t backed away from these things at all. But he can’t make them happen with a broad stroke of the pen,” Mrs. Sanders said.
• Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.
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