One of the many ways government agencies failed to prevent the recent Florida school shooting involved lax school discipline. It’s concerning, then, that the Clark County School District revamped its discipline policy five years ago using the same principles that guided the Florida district.
In February, a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killed 17 people in Parkland, Fla. The shooter had a history of making threats, but he was able to pass a background check anyway. That’s because his school district, along with many others across the country, had relaxed discipline procedures in 2013.
They did this under pressure from the Obama administration. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education suggested — with threats of federal investigations for noncompliance — that public schools soften disciplinary policies. The department claimed that the overrepresentation of minority students, particularly African-Americans, receiving expulsions was evidence of “racial discrimination.”
Never mind the specifics of such incidents or how the change might affect those trying to better themselves in the classroom. If more black students face discipline, the social justice warriors posit, it must automatically be because the adults meting out the punishments are racists.
As might be expected, this so-called “restorative justice” approach created a reluctance on the part of many educators to discipline disruptive students. “Rather than punish a student through exclusion (suspension),” columnist Walter Williams noted last year, “restorative justice encourages the student who has misbehaved to reflect on his behavior, take responsibility and resolve to behave better in the future. The results of this new policy are: increased violence, drug use and gang activity.”
Consider what happened at Stoneman Douglas. “Although [the Florida shooter] was disciplined for a string of offenses — including assault, threatening teachers and carrying bullets in his backpack — he was never taken into custody or even expelled,” reports RealClear Investigations.
“He probably wouldn’t have been able to buy the murder weapon if the school had referred him to law enforcement,” a veteran FBI agent told RCI.
This tragedy should serve as a wake-up call to the Clark County School District. In 2013, the district also studied why black students received a disproportionately high number of suspensions. Its committee found that “bias” was the No. 1 cause.
The district then relaxed its discipline standards, and the results have been predictable. Violence has jumped by 50 percent in four years, while expulsions have dropped by 69 percent. The district’s “violence to students” rate is now 19.4 per 1,000 students. For comparison, the FBI reports that Nevada’s 2016 violent crime rate was 6.8 per 1,000.
The Trump administration is currently considering whether to overturn the Obama discipline directive. It should do so. And when it does, the Clark County School District should take a new look at its own policies.