The Year in Review: Successful School Safety and Equity in School Discipline (Part II)

Putting Politics Aside to Protect our Kids—A Review of the Federal Commission’s School Safety Report

Dear Colleagues,


   Happy New Year !!!  I hope that everyone had a great Holiday. . . filled with relaxation, relatives, reflection, and renewal . . . especially as we now gear up for the rest of the school year.

   And so, as we turn to 2019, I decided to review some of the educational “themes” discussed in my Blogs during 2018.  I do this because I truly believe that, while imperfect, we can learn from history. . . avoiding the mistakes of the past, while building on the successes that can positively impact our future.

   Part I of this year-end “2018 Review” was posted during the week of Christmas.  I hope you had a chance to read it.  It was titled:

The School Year in Review:  Choosing High-Success Academic and Behavioral Strategies (Part I).  Committing to Educational Excellence by Learning from Hattie’s and SEL’s Limitations


   In that Blog, we discussed and analyzed the following themes:

  • Theme 1: Choosing High-Success Initiatives.  Here, we discussed the importance of schools doing their own science-to-research “due diligence” so that they adopt and implement defensible and high-probability-of-success initiatives and programs on behalf of their students and staff.

We also critically reviewed the research of John Hattie—detailing the strengths and limitations of meta-analytic studies, and emphasizing that schools cannot take Hattie’s effect sizes and move directly to implementation.  Indeed, because meta-analysis statistically pools many separate research studies together, these studies often have different methods, procedures, strategies, and implementation sequences. 

Thus, in reading Hattie’s different results, schools would not know exactly what to implement in any one area without critically evaluating the separate studies that were pooled together.

  • Theme 2: The Selling of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).  As a specific example of Theme 1, we encouraged schools to critically look at the history and foundation of the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) “movement”—especially as led through the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). 

More specifically, schools need to understand the money and politics behind the CASEL movement, and recognize the serious flaws in the research that it often cites as the backbone of its practices. 

Our primary recommendation in this area is for schools to “step back” and reassess how to use more effective science-to-practice approaches to improve students’ social, emotional, and behavioral skills and self-management abilities.

_ _ _ _ _

   In today’s Part II, we will discuss and analyze the second set of 2018 themes:

  • Theme 3: Preventing School Shootings.  Here, we will encourage schools to go “Back to the Future” by reviewing past recommendations from previous years’ school shooting analyses when re-evaluating their current school safety systems and approaches.  Clearly, this is especially important given the rash of school shootings during 2018.

This discussion also will critically review—in the most depoliticized way possible—the Federal Commission on School Safety’s Final Report released less than four weeks ago on December 18, 2018.

  • Theme 4: School Discipline and Disproportionality.  Here, we will review the importance of proactive, scientifically-based, and multi-tiered school discipline approaches, as well as how to realistically, comprehensively, and pragmatically address the issue of disproportionality. . . especially with students of color and/or with disabilities.

This theme will discuss the implications of the U.S. Department of Education’s December 21, 2018 rescission of the Obama-era guidance aimed at reducing racial discrimination when students are disciplined.  This was done officially by Secretary DeVos just three days after the release of the Federal Commission on School Safety’s Final Report which included this in its recommendations.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Theme 3:  Preventing School Shootings—Going Back to the Future

   During 2018, at the Kindergarten through Grade 12 levels, there were 24 school shootings with injuries or deaths.  Two elementary, four middle, and 18 high schools were involved.  Twenty-eight students and seven adults or school employees were killed.  And, 79 others were injured.

   The youngest victim was 14.  The oldest victim was 64.

   The shootings occurred from Alaska to California to Pennsylvania to Florida. . . and multiple states in between.  Of the 35 deaths, 27 combined lost their lives either at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, or at Santa Fe High School in Texas.

   Of the 13 shootings that occurred in schools during the school day, 10 had police officers or SROs assigned to their schools, and approximately 19,965 students were exposed to the violence.

   Thirteen of the 25 perpetrators were students themselves, 9 attended the school where the shooting occurred, and 19 of the known 21 shooters were male. 

_ _ _ _ _

   We mourned for those who lost their lives.  We pray for a return to health for the injured.  And we dedicate ourselves to taking the definitive actions needed to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

   Below are the 2018 Blogs written in this theme area. . . with their titles, dates of publication, and web-links to the original messages.

[CLICK on the Date below to link to the Original Blog]

February 24, 2018 School Shootings: History Keeps Repeating Itself. . . What We Already Know, and What Schools, Staff, and Students Need to Do (Part I)

March 10, 2018 School Shootings, Comprehensive Prevention, Mandatory (Mental Health) Reporting, and Standardized Threat Assessments: What Schools, Staff, and Students Need to Do, and the Help that They Need to Do It (Part II)

March 25, 2018 School Climate, Student Voice, On-Campus Shootings, and now Corporal Punishment??? Listening to Students—When They Make Sense; and Not Listening to Students—When They’re Ready to Kill (Part III)

September 8, 2018 Preventing School Shootings and Violence. . . States Not Waiting for the Federal Commission on School Safety Report: The Guidance You Need is Here and Available

_ _ _ _ _

The Blog Take-Aways

   When writing the Blogs above, I took both an historical and an applied perspective.  The goal here is to prevent (or at least minimize) more school shooting fatalities and casualties, the broader impacts of any shootings that occur—as well as to prevent other incidents related more broadly to school violence.

   Significantly, I know the history.  And I have worked with schools in this area for over 35 years.

   Indeed, I was on the writing team for the Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools document that was commissioned and distributed nationwide by the U.S. Department of Education to every school in 1998 after the Jonesboro, Arkansas school shooting.

   Here are the Blog take-aways:

  • Take-Away #1.  Virtually all of the recent school shooting re-analyses have confirmed what we have known for almost 15 years:  there is no single “profile” to predict a school shooter; the shooters had different motives—including some whose acts were random; many of the shooters had no diagnosed mental health issues; and there were “warning signs” in some, but not all, of the events.

Thus, the factors related to school shootings are complex, and the ways to prevent them must be layered and overlapping (see below).

More specifically, districts need to balance the physical and technological “hardening” of their schools, with their social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health-related “softening.”  This latter area includes an increased focus on school safety and positive school climate, prosocial relationships and conflict prevention, classroom management and student engagement, and students’ social, emotional, and behavioral self-management.

_ _ _ _ _

  • Take-Away #2.  After analyzing existing (largely state) gun control and related access laws—due to post-school-shooting calls for federal legislation—we concluded that the potential to successfully impact our nation’s laws in this area already exists. . . because many states have already passed significant, successful, and impactful legislation.

While some of my colleagues believe that I am making a political statement here, I really am not.  Here are the facts.

*  In a March 23, 2018 article, the Boston Globe estimated that approximately 27,000 of the 38,658 people who died nationally in 2016 gun-related deaths could have been saved if every state had the same gun laws as Massachusetts. 

This article [CLICK HERE] provided (a) state-by-state statistics on gun-related deaths in 2016, (b) how many lives would have been saved by Massachusetts-like gun laws, and (c) how many of seven “common-sense” gun law components each state has enacted.

*  In a December 19, 2018 (just a few weeks ago!!!), the New England Journal of Medicine reported that, of the 20,360 U.S. child and adolescent deaths in this country in 2016 (the most recent year reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention), 61% were due to injuriesnot due to medical conditions (e.g., like cancer).  Moreover, while motor vehicle crashes topped the injury list, firearm deaths (largely homicides and suicides) were second on the list.

Critically, while the death rates from guns remained flat from 1999 to 2013, they increased 28% from 2013 to 2016.  At present, guns are responsible for 4.02 deaths for every 100,000 American children or adolescents.

Finally, this article cited analyses, completed by the World Health Organization, of firearm deaths in twelve high-income and seven low-and-middle-income countries.  The results indicated that the rate of firearm deaths in the U.S. is 36 times higher than the average rate in the 12 other high-income countries researched, and five times higher than the average rate in the low-and-middle-income countries, respectively.

In conclusion, improved gun control and access legislation will not only potentially decrease the number and/or impact of school shootings, but it will also have broader public health benefits. . . relative to child and adolescent gun deaths across our communities.

The goal is not to abolish individuals’ gun rights.  The goal is to control what weapons are available, to limit children and adolescents’  access to guns, and to improve the accountability to and protection of others.

_ _ _ _ _

  • Take-Away #3.  In addition to the points in Take-Away #2, two related recommendations were suggested:

*   We need to establish federal laws, similar to the existing child abuse laws nationwide, that require professionals and others to report individuals (including students) who are suspected of potentially committing school violence. 

*   We also need to develop and require, at the state or federal level, a standardized threat assessment for any individual reported as immediately above.

_ _ _ _ _

  • Take-Away #4.  Finally, in my September 8, 2018 Blog, I predicted that the forthcoming Federal Commission on School Safety Final Report would (a) reflect more of a political agenda than an objective school safety agenda; (b) not include any recommendations for gun control; (c) not break new ground relative to the school safety recommendations advanced; and (d) depend largely on frameworks or programs (e.g., PBIS) that have been historically funded and singularly promoted by the U.S. Department of Education—even though they have never demonstrated broad, data-based, and field-implemented success.

In the latter area, it appeared that the Commission, once again, was more impressed by the inflated number of (PBIS) schools implementing some federally-supported frameworks, rather than recognizing (or being presented) their (a) questionable impact on a broad range of students’ social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health challenges; (b) inability to demonstrate that their strategies have been causally responsible for any positive outcomes found; or (c) inability to sustain their initiatives for more than three years in the sites where implemented.

Significantly, an Education Week article, published on the day that the Commission Report was released noted that:

Two districts that recently experienced mass shootings also appear to use PBIS to some extent, according to their websites: the Broward County school district, which is home to Stoneman Douglas, and Texas’ Santa Fe Independent School District, near Houston, the site of another mass shooting in May.

   Unfortunately, my September, 2018 predictions regarding the Commission’s Report largely came true.  What was surprising (but predictable) was that the Commission did not release its Report until December 18, 2018—at a time when most schools were closing for the Holiday break, and most news agencies were focused on other critical news events.

_ _ _ _ _

A Brief Analysis of the Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety. . . With Recommendations on What Schools Need to do Now

   The Federal Commission on School Safety consisted of four Cabinet Secretaries: Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education (chair); Matthew Whitaker, Acting Attorney General of the United States (replacing former Attorney General Jeff Sessions); Alex Azar, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Kirstjen M. Nielsen, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.

   The Commission was established in March, 2018 in response to the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL where 17 people were killed by a former student.  The Commission’s self-stated Mission was to:

Quickly providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school. These recommendations will include a range of issues, like social emotional support, recommendations on effective school safety infrastructure, discussion on minimum age for firearms purchases, and the impact that videogames and the media have on violence.

  Right from the beginning, a number of professional education groups (and U.S. Senators) expressed concerns that the Commission would be politically slanted, as well as insensitive to some aspects of the school and schooling process— largely because none of the Secretaries had any school or educational experience. 

   This turned out to be true—as was also documented in my September, 2018 Blog where I described all of the invited speaker and expert sessions, and all of the listening sessions and site visits.

[CLICK HERE for September 8, 2018 Blog]

_ _ _ _ _

   Released, once again, on December 18, 2018, the Commission Report consists of 19 chapters, 180 pages, and 100 policy recommendations.  Significantly, with its focus on “local solutions for local problems,” the Report proposed no new federal money—especially for mental health services, and it leaves implementation largely up to states and school districts.

   Take-Aways.  An Education Week article published almost immediately after the Report’s release cited seven Take-Aways:

  • Take-Away #1.  The Commission wants school districts to take a hard look at arming "specially selected and trained" school staff.
  • Take-Away #2.  There's not much in the report when it comes to restricting access to guns.
  • Take-Away #3.  The Commission has lots of love—but proposes no new money—for mental health services.
  • Take-Away #4.  The Commission wants districts to make schools "harder" targets.
  • Take-Away #5.  It's mostly going to be up to states and school districts to implement these policies.
  • Take-Away #6.  The report contains a Christmas tree of recommendations on everything from cyberbullying to psychotropic drugs.
  • Take-Away #7.  As widely expected, the report recommends scrapping the Obama administration's discipline guidance that directly address disproportionality.

_ _ _ _ _

   Beyond this Education Week article, I have reviewed other analyses of the Commission’s Report, including those from a number of national educational publications and associations, respectively. 

   In the latter group, notable critiques were published by the Learning First Alliance (LFA)—which consists of twelve major national organizations (including, for example, AASA: The School Superintendents Association, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Learning Forward, the National PTA, and the National School Boards Association), the National Association of School Psychologists, and others.

   Among the comments by the Learning First Alliance and/or its constituent members were the following:

The federal safety commission’s report “passes the buck” to states and recommends practices that the majority of districts can’t afford, the AASA, The School Superintendents Association, said in a response.
The Commission on School Safety report has limited utility for school leaders, its purported audience, if school districts lack resources to fulfill its best practices and recommendations. For instance, communities that lack school and community-based mental health providers would not be able to use recommendations to improve mental health for children, or if a district lacks funds it cannot install physical impediments to school shootings, such as blast- or bullet-resistant glass windows.
"The Commission compromises its own credibility by staying mute on the issue of firearm access and other prevention efforts that reduce the need to turn schools into fortresses," JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said in a statement. "Guns in the wrong hands is a common element in school shootings. The Commission's failure to address that element– with even the most sensible and noncontroversial recommendations – is nothing short of willful ignorance."
"It is puzzling that the Federal Commission on School Safety would spend seven months and untold tax dollars on rediscovering well-known school safety strategies," she went on to say.
 “The federal commission should have put forth a more comprehensive effort that supports schools in their attempts to prevent violence and address the mental health needs of their students and staff,” said Nathan R. Monell, CAE, executive director of the National PTA and 2018-19 chair of the Learning First Alliance. “We are hopeful that the federal agencies will go further than issuing a report that will not only recommend best practices, which well-resourced districts can adopt and implement quickly, but also dedicate federal funds to ensure underserved districts get the support they need.”
 “The members of LFA share the Secretary and commission’s commitment to enhancing school safety and students’ well-being, but leadership is more than just telling schools what to do,” said Richard M. Long, LFA executive director. “This is a complex problem, and LFA organizations have examples of what works and need the Congress and the Administration to provide resources and assistance to help meet each school communities’ individual needs.”

_ _ _ _ _

   I agree with all of these statements.

   But rather than rehash other facets of the Report, I would like to do two things.  First, point you to the Report’s Appendix B which provides a summary of past findings and recommendations from key school safety reports.

   Second, I want to call your attention again to a section from my September 8, 2018 Blog which detailed the steps that schools and districts should take to create a Targeted Violence Protection Plan.

_ _ _ _ _

A Summary of Past Findings and Recommendations from Key School Safety Reports

   Perhaps the most important contribution in the Commission’s School Safety Report is the 90-page Appendix B.  This Appendix begins by discussing its purpose:

The Federal Commission on School Safety (the Commission) was charged with identifying best practices and providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school. To effectively capture past efforts in the area of school safety, the Commission identified key school safety reports issued at the federal and state levels of government from 2001 to 2018.
The purpose of this appendix is to present an overview of the trends found throughout the reports and provide a summary of the findings and recommendations from the reports. The information has been captured for educators and other stakeholders to consider when creating safer environments for learning.
Two types of reports are included: (a) event-specific reports that were prompted by a specific school shooting incident and (b) reports from the U.S. Secret Service.

_ _ _ _ _

   The Appendix then identifies the ten reports that it reviewed and integrated into a series of very helpful Recommendation and Action tables:

Event-Specific Reports

1. The Report of Governor Bill Owens’ Columbine Review Commission (2001)

2. Report to the President: Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy (2007)

3. Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech, Addendum to Report of the Review Panel, Presented to Governor Kaine, Commonwealth of Virginia (2009)

4. Now is the Time—The President’s Plan to Protect Our Children and Our Communities by Reducing Gun Violence (2013)

5. Final Report of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission Presented to Governor Daniel P. Malloy, State of Connecticut (2015)

6. The Broward County League of Cities’ School and Community Public Safety Task Force Initial Report and Recommendations (2018)

U.S. Secret Service Reports

7. The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. United States Secret Service and the United States Department of Education (2002)

8. Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates. United States Secret Service and the United States Department of Education (2004)

9. Prior Knowledge of Potential School-Based Violence: Information Students Learn May Prevent a Targeted Attack. United States Secret Service and the United States Department of Education (2008)

10. Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence (2018)

_ _ _ _ _

Creating a Targeted Violence Prevention Plan

   But critically, without a strategic planning process that includes needs assessments, resource analyses, and outcomes-based evaluations, the potential impact of all the recommendations in Appendix B—for an individual district or its schools—will not be maximized.

   To this end, the steps in a strategic planning process focused on developing a district-level Targeted Violence Prevention Plan are re-reviewed (from our September 8, 2018 Blog) below:

   Step 1: Establish a Multidisciplinary Threat Assessment Team.  A multidisciplinary threat assessment team of school personnel should include faculty, staff, administrators, coaches, school resource officers, and related services/mental health professionals who will direct, manage, and document the threat assessment process.

   Step 2: Define Behaviors.  The Threat Assessment Team should specify and define those behaviors that should trigger an immediate threat assessment and/or immediate intervention. 

   A valid and reliable threat assessment protocol and process needs to be identified—with appropriate initial and updated/ongoing booster training conducted.  A strategic “immediate intervention” process should be established for different qualitative kinds of threats—again with appropriate training and resourcing.

   Step 3: Establish and Provide Training on a Central Reporting System.  A technologically fluid and available central reporting system and data-base should be put into operation.  Available to staff, students, parents, and others in the community, the reporting system should provide anonymity to those reporting concerns, and it should be continuously monitored by personnel to ensure a timely investigation and response to all reports.

   Step 4: Determine the Threshold for Law Enforcement Intervention.  Given the Behaviors in Step 2, a threshold for law enforcement intervention should be mutually established for different threats and threat levels.

   Step 5: Establish Threat Assessment Procedures.  Expanding on Step 2, agreed-upon and developmentally-sensitive threat assessment procedures  are developed and implemented to include practices for maintaining documentation, identifying sources of information, reviewing records, and conducting interviews.

   These procedures should include the following investigative themes to guide the assessment process:

  • Motive: What motivated the student to engage in the behavior of concern? What is the student trying to solve?
  • Communications: Have there been concerning, unusual, threatening, or violent communications? Are there communications about thoughts of suicide, hopelessness, or information relevant to the other investigative themes?
  • Inappropriate Interests: Does the student have inappropriate interests in weapons, school attacks or attackers, mass attacks, other violence? Is there a fixation on an issue or a person?
  • Weapons Access: Is there access to weapons? Is there evidence of manufactured explosives or incendiary devices?
  • Stressors: Have there been any recent setbacks, losses, or challenges? How is the student coping with stressors?
  • Emotional and Developmental Issues: Is the student dealing with mental health issues or developmental disabilities? Is the student’s behavior a product of those issues? What resources does the student need?
  • Desperation or Despair: Has the student felt hopeless, desperate, or like they are out of options?
  • Violence as an Option: Does the student think that violence is a way to solve a problem? Have they in the past?
  • Concerned Others: Has the student’s behavior elicited concern? Was the concern related to safety?
  • Capacity: Is the student organized enough to plan and execute an attack? Does the student have the resources
  • Planning: Has the student initiated an attack plan, researched tactics, selected targets, or practiced with a weapon?
  • Consistency: Are the student’s statements consistent with his or her actions or what others observe? If not, why?

Protective Factors: Are there positive and prosocial influences in the student’s life? Does the student have a positive and trusting relationship with an adult at school? Does the student feel emotionally connected to other students?

   Step 6: Develop Risk Management Options.  Risk management options and individualized risk management plans should be linked (as needed) to different threat assessment results. These plans should include (as above) when and how quickly to notify law enforcement (and others) if a student is thinking about an attack, how to inform and ensure the safety of potential targets, how to de-escalate potential violence situations, how re-direct a student’s motive, and how to reduce the effect of student stressors.

   Step 7: Create and Promote a Safe School Climate.  Finally, the Threat Assessment Team—supported by administrators, other school committees (e.g., The Discipline/SEL Committee), staff, students, parents, and community groups—need to create and promote a safe school climate built on a culture of safety, respect, trust, and emotional support.  Students need to be encouraged to take the lead in these proactive efforts, to share their concerns regarding students and situations, and to safely intervene in conflicts or incidents involving (on-site and social media) teasing, bullying, or peer ostracism.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Theme 4:  School Discipline and Disproportionality:  Research to Practice

   Many of my Blogs over the years have focused on helping districts and schools to establish and sustain sound and effective science-to-practice school discipline, classroom management, and student self-management approaches.  These approaches are essential to creating safe schools and classrooms, prosocial and collaborative student interactions, positive learning environments, and student engagement and achievement.

   But embedded in this process is the issue of the disproportionate rates of office discipline referrals and school suspensions experienced by students of color and those with disabilities.

   Indeed, the most-recent federal data on student discipline (from the 2015-2016 school year) shows that, while approximately 2.7 million students were suspended at least once during that year (about 100,000 fewer than during the 2013-2014 school year), the racial disparity gap in discipline referrals did not close.

   More specifically, during the 2015-2016 school year, African-American boys and girls each made up just 8% of enrolled students.  Nonetheless, African-American boys made up 25% of all students suspended at least once, and African-American girls accounted for 14% of the total.

_ _ _ _ _

   Numerous Blogs addressed all of these issues during 2018.  Below are their titles, dates of publication, and web-links to the original message.

 [CLICK on the Date below to link to the Original Blog]

April 15, 2018 New Federal Government Report Finds that Disproportionate School Discipline Actions Persist with Black, Male, and Special Education Students: Manipulating Policy, Buying Programs, and Following Federally-Funded Technical Assistance Centers Do Not Work (Part I)

May 5, 2018 Decreasing Disproportionate School Discipline Actions with Black, Male, and Special Education Students: A Roadmap to Success. Taking a Hard Look at Our Practices, Our Interactions, and Ourselves (Part II)

May 23, 2018 Solving the Disproportionate School Discipline Referral Dilemma: When will Districts and Schools Commit to the Long-term Solutions? There are No Silver Bullets—Only Science to Preparation to Implementation to Evaluation to Celebration (Part III)

July 7, 2018 Elementary School Principals’ Biggest Concern: Addressing Students’ Behavior and Emotional Problems. The Solution? Project ACHIEVE’s Multi-Tiered, Evidence-Based Roadmap to Success

August 18, 2018 Students’ Mental Health Status, and School Safety, Discipline, and Disproportionality: An Anthology of Previous Blogs. Integrating Successful Research-to-Practice Strategies into the New School Year (Part II of II)

September 22, 2018 The U.S. Department of Education Wants to “Rethink Special Education,” But Is It Willing to Look at Itself First? The Department Needs to Change at the “Top” in Order to Successfully Impact the “Bottom”

_ _ _ _ _

The Take-Aways

   If anything, the disproportionality issue has become more complex during the past few weeks. 

   Despite calls by national education associations, organizations, experts, and others to “leave things alone,” the Federal Commission on School Safety Report recommended that the U.S. Department of Education and Justice’s joint guidance, crafted during the Obama administration, on the disproportionate discipline rates for students of color and with disabilities be rescinded.

   And—not surprisingly—even though this recommendation had virtually nothing to do with the primary mission of the Commission, this recommendation was enacted by Secretary of Education DeVos (who chaired the Commission) on December 21, 2018. . .just three days after the release of the Commission’s Report.

   By way of history, this guidance was released in 2014 as a Dear Colleague letter that—according to a December 5, 2018 article by Mark Keierleber of

. . . put districts that disciplined students of color and those with disabilities disproportionately on notice that they could be in violation of federal civil rights laws. The letter targeted discipline policies that didn’t explicitly mention race but had “a disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race.”
While acknowledging that a range of factors contribute to racial disparities in discipline, the Obama administration said the differences couldn’t be explained by more frequent or serious misbehavior among students of color, adding that “unexplained racial disparities in student discipline give rise to concerns that schools may be engaging in racial discrimination.”

   But. . . despite the current Administration’s rescinding of this Guidance, the disproportionality issue does not really have to become more complex. 

   This is because most states and districts nationwide have been working hard (albeit not quite successfully—see the 2015-2016 school year data above) to address this issue since even before 2014. 

   And so, the question is, “What if these states and districts simply ignored DeVos’ action, and continued working to close the disproportionality gap?”

   Indeed, I just don’t see states and districts nationwide using the rescission of this Guidance as “permission” to treat different students in inequitable ways.

   At the same time, we have got to do better in closing the disproportionality gap.  Below, we summarize the most important Take-Aways in this area from the above-cited 2018 Blogs.

_ _ _ _ _

Why Disproportionality Outcomes Haven’t Changed

   In our April 15, 2018 Blog, we reviewed six primary flaws to explain why most of the disproportionality “efforts” in our schools have not worked to date:

Flaw #1.  Legislatures (and other “leaders”) are trying to change practices through policies.

Flaw #2.  State Departments of Education (and other “leaders”) are promoting one-size-fits-all programs with “scientific” foundations that do not exist or are flawed.

Flaw #3.  Districts and schools are implementing disproportionality “solutions” (Frameworks) that target conceptual constructs rather than teaching social, emotional, and behavioral skills. 

Flaw #4. Districts and Schools are not recognizing that Classroom Management and Teacher Training, Supervision, and Evaluation are Keys to Decreasing Disproportionality.

Flaw #5.  Schools and Staff are trying to motivate students to change their behavior when they have not learned, mastered, or cannot apply the social, emotional, and behavioral skills needed to succeed.

Flaw #6.  Districts, Schools, and Staff do not have the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to implement the multi-tiered (prevention, strategic intervention, intensive need/crisis management) social, emotional, and/or behavioral services, supports, and interventions needed by students.

[CLICK HERE for the Original Blog message]

   By understanding these flaws, we encouraged districts and schools to evaluate their current school and schooling outcomes, as well as their school discipline and classroom management practices—especially with students of color and with disabilities (SWDs).

   Our ultimate point then was:

During the past ten-plus years of trying to systemically decrease disproportionality in schools, we have not comprehensively and objectively identified the root causes of the students’ challenging behaviors, and we have not linked these root causes to strategically-applied multi-tiered science-to-practice strategies and interventions that are effectively and equitably used by teachers and administrators. 
Moreover, we have not comprehensively and objectively identified and addressed the root causes of staff members’ interactions and reactions with African-American students, boys, and students with disabilities. . . reactions that, at times, are the reasons for some disproportionate Office Discipline Referrals.
And, we have not comprehensively and objectively identified and addressed the root causes of administrators’ disproportionate decisions with these students as they relate to suspensions, expulsions, law enforcement involvement, and referrals to alternative school programs.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Solving the Disproportionality Dilemma

   We continued the discussion by emphasizing that—in order to establish effective, multi-tiered systems that address disproportionality—schools need to strategically implement effective school discipline, classroom management, and student self-management systems, strategies, and (as needed) strategic and intensive interventions.  We then reviewed the five interdependent, science-to-practice components needed to accomplish this task.

   These components involve services, supports, strategies, and interventions that establish:

   * Positive Relationships and School/Classroom Climate
   * Positive Behavioral Expectations and Skills Instruction
   * Student Motivation and Accountability
   * Consistency
   * Implementation and Application Across All Settings and All Peer Groups

   Although the goal is the same for all students, the ultimate goal here is for students of color and with disabilities to learn, master, and be able to apply—from preschool through high school—social, emotional, and behavioral self-management skills.  More specifically, these involve interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional control and coping skills. 

   But all of this must be accomplished in a systemic way

   That’s where the Commission seems to have missed the boat. 

   In an Appendix to the 2014 Dear Colleague letter (“Recommendations for School Districts, Administrators, Teachers, and Staff”), the U.S. Department of Education provided a very sound blueprint for districts and schools in how to strategically evaluate and “personalize” their approaches to address disproportionality.

   As detailed in our May 23, 2018 Blog, below are the most essential strategies outlined in this Appendix.

[CLICK HERE for the Original Blog message]

I. Climate and Prevention

(A)  Safe, inclusive, and positive school climates that provide students with supports such as evidence-based tiered supports and social and emotional learning.

*   Develop and implement a comprehensive, school- and/or district-wide approach to classroom management and student behavior grounded in evidence-based educational practices that seeks to create a safe, inclusive, and positive educational environment.

*   Ensure that appropriate student behavior is positively reinforced. Such reinforcement could include school-wide tiered supports, including universal, targeted, and intensive supports, to align behavioral interventions to students’ behavioral needs.

*   Encourage students to accept responsibility for any misbehavior and acknowledge their responsibility to follow school rules.

*   Assist students in developing social and emotional competencies (e.g., self-management, resilience, self-awareness, responsible decision-making) that help them redirect their energy, avoid conflict, and refocus on learning.

*   Refer students with complex social, emotional, or behavioral needs for psychological testing and services, health services, or other educational services, where needed.

*   Ensure that there are sufficient school-based counselors, social workers, nurses, psychologists, and other mental health and supportive service providers to work with students and implement tiered supports. Involve these providers in addressing disciplinary incidents; preventing future disciplinary concerns; reintegrating students who are returning from suspensions, alternative disciplinary schools, or incarceration; and maintaining a safe, inclusive, and positive educational environment.

 (B) Training and professional development for all school personnel

*   Provide all school personnel, including teachers, administrators, support personnel, and school resource officers, with ongoing, job-embedded professional development and training in evidence-based techniques on classroom management, conflict resolution, and de-escalation approaches that decrease classroom disruptions and utilize exclusionary disciplinary sanctions as a last resort.

*   Train all school personnel on the school’s written discipline policy and how to administer discipline fairly and equitably. Facilitate discussion for all school personnel of the school’s discipline policies and the faculty’s crucial role in creating a safe, inclusive, and positive educational environment.

*   Provide training to all school personnel on how to apply subjective criteria in making disciplinary decisions.

*   Provide cultural awareness training to all school personnel, including training on working with a racially and ethnically diverse student population and on the harms of employing or failing to counter racial and ethnic stereotypes.

*   Establish procedures to assess the effectiveness of professional development approaches in improving school discipline practice and staff knowledge and skills.

*   Establish procedures for school administrators to identify teachers who may be having difficulty managing classrooms effectively, preventing discipline problems from occurring, or making appropriate disciplinary referrals, and to provide those teachers with assistance and training.

*   Ensure that appropriate instruction is provided to any volunteer on a school’s campus regarding the school’s approach to classroom management and student behavior.

II.  Clear, Appropriate, and Consistent Expectations and Consequences

(A) Nondiscriminatory, fair, and age-appropriate discipline policies

*   Ensure that school discipline policies specifically and positively state high expectations for student behavior, promote respect for others, and make clear that engaging in harassment and violence, among other problem behaviors, is unacceptable.

*   Ensure that discipline policies include a range of measures that students may take to improve their behavior prior to disciplinary action.

*   Develop or revise written discipline policies to clearly define offense categories and base disciplinary penalties on specific and objective criteria whenever possible. If certain offense categories have progressive sanctions, clearly set forth the range of sanctions for each infraction.

*   Ensure that the sanctions outlined by the school’s discipline policies are proportionate to the misconduct.

*   Review standards for disciplinary referrals and revise policies to include clear definitions of offenses and procedures for all school personnel to follow when making referrals.

*   Clearly designate who has the authority to identify discipline violations and/or assign penalties for misconduct.

*   Ensure that the school’s written discipline policy regarding referrals to disciplinary authorities or the imposition of sanctions distinguishes between those students who have violated the school’s discipline policy for the first time and those students who repeatedly commit a particular violation of the discipline policy.

*   Ensure that appropriate due process procedures are in place and applied equally to all students and include a clearly explained opportunity for the student to appeal the school’s disciplinary action.

(B) Communicating with and engaging school communities

*   Involve families, students, and school personnel in the development and implementation of discipline policies or codes of conduct and communicate those policies regularly and clearly.

*   Provide the discipline policies and student code of conduct to students in an easily understandable, age-appropriate format that makes clear the sanctions imposed for specific offenses, and periodically advise students of what conduct is expected of them.

*   Put protocols in place for when parents and guardians should be notified of incidents meriting disciplinary sanctions to ensure that they are appropriately informed.

*   Post all discipline-related materials on district and school websites.

*   Provide parents and guardians with copies of all discipline policies, including the discipline code, student code of conduct, appeals process, process for re-enrollment, where appropriate, and other related notices; and ensure that these written materials accurately reflect the key elements of the disciplinary approach, including appeals, alternative dispositions, time lines, and provisions for informal hearings.

*   Translate all discipline policies, including the discipline code and all important documents related to individual disciplinary actions, to ensure effective communication with students, parents, and guardians who are limited English proficient. Provide interpreters or other language assistance as needed by students and parents for all discipline-related meetings, particularly for expulsion hearings.

*   Establish a method for soliciting student, family, and community input regarding the school’s disciplinary approach and process, which may include establishing a committee(s) on general discipline policies made up of diverse participants, including, but not limited to students, administrators, teachers, parents, and guardians; and seek input from parents, guardians, and community leaders on discipline issues, including the written discipline policy and process.

(C) Emphasizing positive interventions over student removal

*   Ensure that the school’s written discipline policy emphasizes constructive interventions over tactics or disciplinary sanctions that remove students from regular academic instruction (e.g., office referral, suspension, expulsion, alternative placement, seclusion).

*   Ensure that the school’s written discipline policy explicitly limits the use of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and alternative placements to the most severe disciplinary infractions that threaten school safety or to those circumstances where mandated by Federal or State law.

*   Ensure that the school’s written discipline policy provides for individual tailored intensive services and supports for students reentering the classroom following a disciplinary sanction.

*   Ensure that the school’s written discipline policies provide for alternatives to in-school and out-of-school suspensions and other exclusionary practices (i.e., expulsions).

III. Equity and Continuous Improvement

(A) Monitoring and self-evaluation

*   Develop a policy requiring the regular evaluation of each school’s discipline policies and practices and other school-wide behavior management approaches to determine if they are affecting students of different racial and ethnic groups equally. Such a policy could include requiring the regular review of discipline reports containing information necessary to assess whether students with different personal characteristics (e.g., race, sex, disability, and English learner status) are disproportionately disciplined, whether certain types of disciplinary offenses are more commonly referred for disciplinary sanctions(s), whether specific teachers or administrators are more likely to refer specific groups of students for disciplinary sanctions, and any other indicators that may reveal disproportionate disciplinary practices.

*   Establish a means for monitoring that penalties imposed are consistent with those specified in the school’s discipline code.

*   Conduct a periodic review of a sample of discipline referrals and outcomes to ensure consistency in assignments.

(B) Data collection and responsive action

*   Collect and use multiple forms of data, including school climate surveys, incident data, and other measures as needed, to track progress in creating and maintaining a safe, inclusive and positive educational environment.

*   Collect complete information surrounding all discipline incidents, including office referrals and discipline incidents that do not result in sanctions. Relevant data elements include information related to the date, time, and location of the discipline incident; the offense type; whether an incident was reported to law enforcement; demographic and other information related to the perpetrator, victim, witness, referrer, and disciplinarian; and the penalty imposed. Ensure that there are administrative staff who understand how to analyze and interpret each school’s discipline data to confirm that data are accurately collected, reported, and used.

*   Create and review discipline reports to detect patterns that bear further investigation, assist in prioritizing resources, and evaluate whether a school’s discipline and behavior management goals are being reached.

*   If disparities in the administration of student discipline are identified, commit the school to a plan of action to determine what modifications to the school’s discipline approach would help it ameliorate the root cause(s) of these disparities.

*   Develop a discipline incident database that provides useful, valid, reliable, and timely discipline incident data.

*   Provide the school board and community stakeholders, consistent with applicable privacy laws and after removing students’ identifiable information, with disaggregated discipline information to ensure transparency and facilitate community discussion.

*   Make statistics publicly available on the main discipline indices disaggregated by school and race.

*   Maintain data for a sufficient period of time to yield timely, accurate, and complete statistical calculations.

*   In addition to the Federal civil rights laws, ensure that the school’s discipline policies and practices comply with applicable Federal, State, and local laws, such as IDEA and FERPA.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


   As we enter 2019, we hope that our Blog discussions during 2018 will help you to be more successful at the student, staff, school, and systems level.  While some of the four themes (especially those related to school shootings) will hopefully fade into the past, virtually all of the themes are continually present in our everyday lives as educators.

   Once again, we discussed and analyzed the following themes during Parts I and II of these “Review of 2018” Blogs:

  • Theme 1: Choosing High-Success Initiatives.  Here, we discussed the importance of schools doing their own science-to-research “due diligence” so that they adopt and implement defensible and high-probability-of-success initiatives and programs on behalf of their students and staff.

  • Theme 2: The Selling of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).  As a specific example of the Theme above, we encouraged schools to critically look at the history and foundation of the CASEL/SEL movement, and to “step back” and reassess how to use more effective science-to-practice approaches to improve students’ social, emotional, and behavioral skills and self-management abilities.

  • Theme 3: Preventing School Shootings.  Here, we encouraged schools to go “Back to the Future” by reviewing past recommendations from previous years’ school shooting analyses when re-evaluating their current school safety systems and approaches. 

  • Theme 4: School Discipline and Disproportionality.  Here, we reviewed the importance of proactive, scientifically-based, and multi-tiered school discipline approaches, as well as how to realistically, comprehensively, and pragmatically address the issue of disproportionality.

_ _ _ _ _

   As always, I look forward to your thoughts and comments.  I am always available to provide a free hour of telephone consultation to those who want to discuss their own students, school, or district needs.  Feel free to contact me at any time if there is anything that I can do to support your work.

   And. . . . HAPPY NEW YEAR !!!