When Republicans Go After Children of Color, Democrats Need to Fight Back

You may have heard that the Trump administration has released their plan to “secure our schools” after the Parkland shooting. Included is a directive for the establishment of a Federal Commission on School Safety to be chaired by Secretary Betsy DeVos. One of the areas listed for review is a repeal of the Obama administration’s “Rethink School Discipline” policies.

That initiative of the Obama administration didn’t get a lot of attention. But it was basically designed to dismantle what came to be known as the school-to-prison pipeline. The focus came about after a reversal of the Bush administration’s decision to stop requiring school districts to collect and report data by race. It is not only important to collect that data in order to document the racial achievement gap, the Obama administration found huge racial disparities in how schools handled disciplinary measures, especially suspensions and expulsions.

The reaction to that initiative is a perfect example of why it is so difficult to address racial disparities in this country.

At a briefing hosted by the United States Commission on Civil Rights, dozens of policy experts, researchers, educators and parents sounded off on the Obama-era discipline policy in a meeting that became so racially charged that some black attendees walked out.

Since the discipline guidelines were issued, conservatives have blamed the document for creating unsafe educational environments by pressuring schools to keep suspension numbers down to meet racial quotas, even if it meant ignoring troubling and criminal behavior. Teachers who sought suspensions or expulsions of minority students were painted as racists, conservatives maintained.

“Evidence is mounting that efforts to fight the school-to-prison pipeline is creating a school climate catastrophe and has if anything put at-risk students at greater risk,” said Max Eden, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, who argued that teacher bias was not the driving force behind school discipline.

Never mind that the data overwhelmingly documents that race is a factor in school discipline and that the Obama administration provided evidence-based alternatives that are more effective than suspension. The issue was that it is unacceptable to paint teachers as racists.

In 2014, the American Psychological Association published research demonstrating that the tendency to criminalize black boys isn’t simply limited to teachers.

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research. “Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said the lead author.

Georgetown University law school’s Center on Poverty and Inequality found the same tendency when it comes to black girls.

Adults view young black girls as less innocent than white girls of the same age, a new study has found, indicating that children’s race may affect how their actions are perceived…

“What we found is that adults see black girls as less innocent and less in need of protection as white girls of the same age,” Epstein, the center’s executive director, wrote in a statement. “This new evidence of what we call the ‘adultification’ of black girls may help explain why black girls in America are disciplined much more often and more severely than white girls – across our schools and in our juvenile justice system.”

These children can’t afford to wait for white adults to deal with the anxiety of being held accountable for what some people have called “implicit bias.” They need policies put in place that will allow them to pursue an education.

Obviously the Trump administration is determined to roll back the policies put in place by the Obama administration. As Michelle Golberg wrote:

In a sick irony, some on the right would use the recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla. — allegedly committed by a young man who carved swastikas into the magazines for his semiautomatic rifle — as a pretext to roll back civil rights protections for students of color.

It is also important to keep in mind that, not only are the shooters in these cases almost exclusively white males, their targets have predominately been suburban and rural schools with few students of color. But once again, this administration is determined to implement policies that will hurt students of color in their response.

Donald Trump and the people who work for him don’t simply say racist things. Daily they implement racist policies. That is how they promote white identity politics. Democrats who stay silent about that are complicit with their attempts to relegate a whole new generation of children to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .