Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is coming under renewed pressure to uproot the Obama administration’s lenient school-discipline directive, which critics say backfired tragically with last month’s high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, has urged Mrs. DeVos to overhaul the 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter on school discipline, a joint guidance by the Education and Justice departments that threatened schools with federal civil rights probes unless they reduce law-enforcement referrals, suspensions and expulsions of minority students.
Those policies, embraced at the outset by the Broward County Public Schools, have been blamed for allowing shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz to avoid being arrested or taken into custody despite committing offenses such as assault and carrying bullets to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“The overarching goals of the 2014 directive to mitigate the school-to-prison pipeline, reduce suspensions and expulsions, and to prevent racially biased discipline are laudable and should be explored,” Mr. Rubio said Monday in a letter to the education secretary. “However, any policy seeking to achieve these goals requires basic common sense and an understanding that failure to report troubled students, like Cruz, to law enforcement can have dangerous repercussions.”
Mr. Rubio said the guidance should be revised “to ensure that schools appropriately report violence and dangerous actions to local law enforcement,” while others have encouraged Mrs. DeVos to repeal it outright.
“In the tragic aftermath of the murders in Florida, which were preventable, we simply cannot take the chance that other school districts, in response to a Dear Colleague letter issued in 2014 by the Obama administration, will continue to enforce or will implement the disastrous race-based, discipline-free program put in place in December of 2013 by Broward County,” William Perry Pendley, president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, said Friday in a letter to Mrs. DeVos.