On December 18, 2018, the Federal Commission on School Safety—created by President Donald Trump in March 2018 after the Parkland, Florida school shooting, and chaired by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos—published its final report. The Commission recommended strategies to improve the safety of U.S. schools. The Report’s recommended practices do not have the force of laws, and their implementation by schools is voluntary.
Following months of school visits and stakeholder meetings, the Commission concluded that no one school safety plan will work for every school. Instead, each local problem requires a local solution. According to the Report, states and local school districts play the primary role in establishing educational policy, including how to handle specific instances of student misconduct and discipline, and in ensuring that classroom teachers have the support they need to implement appropriate discipline policies.
The Report recommends rescission of certain prior federal government guidance, identifies options for local policymakers to explore, and describes effective safety strategies. It emphasizes defensive measures (e.g., more prominent security) and increased training, diverging from prior government guidance focused on restorative justice. The full text of the report can be found here.
The Report includes specific findings and recommendations in the primary areas of prevention, protection, and response.
Prevent: The Report recommends infusion of “character” curriculum throughout the school day, and encouragement of a positive school climate through, among other things, school-based mental health supports such as counseling. It encourages development of policies against cyberbulling, and implementation of “If You See Something, Say Something®” campaigns or similar programs. The Report includes messages to the media, the entertainment industry, and law enforcement. The Commission recommends development of safety policies with emphasis on teacher input, rather than a focus on data. Based on this policy approach, the Commission further recommends rescission of the federal government’s 2014 “Rethink School Discipline” guidance.
Protect and Mitigate: The Report recommends increased training to school staff, and the use of trained staff (e.g., Troops to Teachers and School Resource Officers), to respond to violence. This component includes working collaboratively, recognizing and responding to threats of violence, and considering the use of armed staff (specialized and non-specialized) on school campuses. The Report provides factors to consider when schools decide to arm staff, such as proximity of police and the school community’s acceptance of armed staff. The Report recommends security plan components (e.g., controlling entry access at the school’s perimeter; layered supervision within campuses to secure individual classrooms; and effects of security measures on before-school, after-school, and extra-curricular activities).
Respond and Recover: The Report recommends regular preparedness drills and trainings, and development of reactive approaches specific to each school’s unique environment.
After publication of the report, on December 21, 2018, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice issued a joint Dear Colleague letter withdrawing statements of policy and guidance in two prior documents, the Dear Colleague Letter on Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline (January 8, 2014), and the Overview of the Supportive School Discipline Initiative (January 8, 2014). The Departments also withdrew four related documents published on January 8, 2014 that provided additional guidance, strategies, and resources related to school discipline and school climate. In light of the information in the Commission’s Report, the Departments concluded that states and local school districts play the primary role in establishing educational policy, including approaches to specific instances of student misconduct and discipline, and in ensuring that classroom teachers have the support they need to implement appropriate discipline policies. The Departments concluded the 2014 Guidance and associated documents advanced policy preferences and positions not required or contemplated by existing law.
While this action by the Departments signals a continuing shift in federal policy, California’s comprehensive student discipline and school safety statutes are not affected by the decision to withdraw the federal materials issued in 2014.