President Donald Trump, following the recommendation of a national commission on school safety chaired by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, will repeal the Obama administration's "Dear Colleague Letter" on school discipline. The letter, issued in 2014, advised school superintendents nationwide that racial disparities in suspension rates would be grounds for finding school districts in violation of federal anti-discrimination law, and therefore at risk of losing federal funding.
The directive, cast as a "guidance," in fact formalized a fundamental shift in the Department of Education's approach to civil rights enforcement. Prior to the Dear Colleague Letter, the standard held that civil rights are violated if students are treated differently because of race; for instance, if a black student and a white student both curse at a teacher, it's wrong to suspend the black student and give the white student a warning. The Dear Colleague Letter expanded the standard from disparate treatment to disparate impact; now, if two black students and one white student curse at a teacher, it could be a civil rights violation to punish them all equally.
The school system of Broward County, Fla., led the nation in promoting and implementing this policy shift and served as the exemplar for President Barack Obama's directive. Broward's efforts to end the "schoolhouse-to-jailhouse pipeline" by reducing in-school arrests for drug, assault and weapons charges were celebrated by racial-justice and criminal-reform advocates around the country. But it was precisely this preference for social justice over safety that allowed Nikolas Cruz, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter, to avoid arrest in Broward County, despite years of criminal behavior on school grounds, and countless red flags regarding his unstable and psychopathic personality.