Sunday, March 18, 2018

School officials are telling parents the walkout is meant to memorialize the Parkland shooting victims, when in fact it's about pushing gun control legislation

Parents across the country are being urged to let their children participate in the National School Walkout on March 14. Yet, few parents (and kids!) understand the walkout’s true mission. At my children’s elementary school in Northern Virginia, school officials are telling parents the walkout is meant to memorialize the 17 victims of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Yet, according to the National School Walkout website, the real mission of the walkout is to demand Congress pass more restrictive gun laws. The website specifically states: “Students and allies are organizing the national school walkout to demand Congress pass legislation … Congress must take meaningful action … and pass federal gun reform legislation.”

So, the children walking out of the classroom on March 14th won’t be spending the time in quiet prayer or reflection. Instead, school kids (even those in elementary school) are going to be used as props by professional anti-gun activists to push for specific legislation.

Some schools are even aiding in the effort by coordinating with the walkout organizers, providing “safe spaces” for kids who participate in the walkout, promoting the event on school Facebook and Twitter accounts, and allowing school buses to transport kids to and from gun control rallies.

Considering that many public schools are helping to rally more kids to the cause and are even supplying school resources and personnel time to the effort, tax payers should ask: Is this an acceptable use of school funds? More importantly, why is a publicly funded school supporting one side of a very contentious and complex constitutional matter?

Some might even wonder: What other political causes can I expect my public school to promote? Should conservatives in politically red areas of the country expect schools to help transport kids to next year’s March for Life? Or how about for the inauguration on the Mall when Trump is reelected in 2020?

Educators should also be concerned that the politicization of this issue avoids the nuance of what went wrong in Parkland that allowed the terrible shooting to occur, and what policies might actually help prevent the next one.

For instance, we now know that between 2008 and 2017, the Broward County sheriff’s office received 45 calls from concerned citizens related to the Parkland shooter and his brother. Social workers visited the his house multiple times. Yet, none of these reports (which included threats of violence and warnings that these troubled boys had access to weapons) were entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). If these many incidents had been logged into NICS, the shooter wouldn’t have passed a background check, and he wouldn’t have been able to purchase a firearm.

This isn’t just a problem in Broward County. According to a 2016 audit by the Justice Department, all 50 states are guilty of not properly submitting records to the database. Even mental health information largely goes unreported. Considering this, parents might want to ask if their own police departments and social service networks are consistently reporting incidents to the NICS.

They also might want to consider that at Parkland, three Broward County Sherriff’s deputies stood down outside the school, which allowed Cruz to continue his killing spree. Pushing for better police training and more effective communication with local schools is another area where parents should focus.

And there are more important areas to explore, such as the actions of the armed school resource officer employed by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Instead of trying to keep students safe (as he was trained to do), he huddled in a stairwell with his gun holstered. In light of this, parents might want to ask questions about the level of training their school’s resource officers are receiving.

Americans ought to vigorously debate these issues, but we should also recognize that new laws won’t make a difference if they go unenforced. Moreover, there are already 300-plus million guns in the United States. That means regardless of how we restrict gun ownership, we need to be prepared to respond to acts of violence in the future.

Sadly, many parents have decided to pass on these hard questions and instead join a movement that is using children as props in a complex policy issue. We can all agree that children deserve safety and security at school. There are ways to help move toward that goal, but taking advantage of our kids for political ends isn’t one of them.


5 Ways Obama’s Discipline Policy Made Schools Less Effective and Safe

As is typical with so many other policies, federal meddling in what should be a local matter leads to poor results.

This is the conclusion reached Monday by a Heritage Foundation panel about a school discipline initiative, launched by the Obama administration, that suddenly became the subject of national debate after the Feb. 14 massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

A “Dear Colleague” letter from the Department of Education in 2014—designed to crack down on racial disparities in school discipline and reduce the “school to prison pipeline”—created negative unintended consequences, according to Manhattan Institute scholar Max Eden, who was on the panel.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., recently suggested in a memo to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that the guidance to schools led to “systematic failures” to report the Parkland shooter to legal authorities.

Eden and other panelists explained the specific problems the Obama policy created for schools around the country. They identified these five issues, among others:

1.) Schools Feared Investigation, Adopted Lower Standards for Discipline

Gail Heriot, a University of San Diego School of Law professor and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, was part of the panel and explained how the Obama administration used the guidance as a potential cudgel against fearful schools.

In particular, Heriot said, the threat of an Education Department investigation had a chilling effect on schools that intended to discipline a minority student in particular.

“If the federal government had said, ‘Don’t discipline minority students unless it’s justified,’ it would have sounded reasonable,” Heriot said.

But how schools read it, she said, is more like “Don’t disciple a minority student unless you’re confident you can persuade some future federal investigator, whose judgment you have no reason to trust, that it was justified.”

The nature of bureaucracy, Heriot said, means that it’s “inevitable” for those trying to follow such guidelines to overreact.

Schools simply avoided disciplining troubled students because they were fearful of being caught up in a costly investigation, panelists said.

Eden, the Manhattan Institute scholar, also spoke about the chilling threat of investigation. The Obama policy was not guidance, he said, “these were orders.”

Any time a school had a racial disparity in school discipline cases, administrators faced an investigation, so the best way to hold down the number of punishments was simply to lower standards, Eden said.

Investigations began as well-intentioned means to find discrimination, Eden said, but after the Obama administration guidance, investigations “became pretext for prosecutions intended to force school districts to adopt lower standards.”

“These investigations hit hundreds of districts, serving millions of students,” Eden said. “The scope of it is breathtaking.”

2.) Unwillingness to Punish Minority Students Put Other Minority Students in Danger

A breakdown of school discipline made it more difficult for serious students to succeed in schools that serve mostly low-income families with high levels of minority students.

Virginia Walden Ford, a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation, also runs a program in Little Rock, Arkansas, that mostly serves low-income black and Hispanic students.

Ford described how students in Arkansas that she spoke to would often stay home because they were afraid of other students picking fights, and had concluded that teachers wouldn’t do anything about it.

One girl explained to Ford how students at her school didn’t feel safe “because the kids that were creating a lot of the discipline problems” got “a slap on the hand” instead of real punishments.

“There were no consequences to their actions,” Ford said, and this creates an environment in which good students feel “unsafe.”

Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said there are “very good reasons to be concerned about exclusionary discipline, but there are equally good reasons to be concerned about the concern.”

Most educators want students to be more civically engaged, said Pondiscio, a former fifth-grade teacher at a South Bronx public school. But, he said, it sends an awful message to children when the place that they do engage are places where they “feel unsafe, where they are bullied, or, God forbid, harmed, and there’s no meaningful consequence.”

3.) Teachers Feel Like They Have Lost Control

The guidance to schools from the Obama administration took discipline decisions out of teachers’ hands and put them in the hands of bureaucrats, critics said.

The discrepancy in school discipline is based on disparate rates of bad behavior in classrooms—black, white, asian, and other ethnic groups have different levels of discipline problems—and teachers are reacting to this.

Teachers are simply “identifying the students who are actually misbehaving,” Heriot said, “and especially for the worst offenders, it tends to be the same kids.”

“Once prior behavior is taken into account, race drops out as a predictor, entirely,” Heriot said.

But now it’s more difficult for teachers to use their best judgment to discipline students and it’s leading classrooms to get out of control, panelists said.

Classrooms are becoming a “battleground,” not a “safe haven,” Ford said.

“We’ve seen it since the Obama administration policy: Teachers are afraid to do anything, say anything,” Ford said, adding, “They’re not safe because they can’t make decisions on how to discipline kids.”

Students who misbehave understand that teachers can’t do anything to them, so bad behavior escalates and makes schools a poor environment for education, Ford said.

4.) Arrests and Suspensions Went Down, So Did Academic Standards

The Obama administration policy pressured schools to reduce arrests and suspensions. That occurred, panelists said, but the discipline problem escalated, and many schools suffered academically.

“A significant portion of the achievement gap is actually a time-on-task gap,” Pondiscio said he surmised. “And much of that time-on-task gap is caused because of disruptions in the classroom.”

Getting climate and culture right in the classroom is a delicate task for teachers, Pondiscio said, and it is often more important than the actual content of instruction.

Eden said “lazy reporters” focused on selected statistics that show suspensions going down, and then they insinuated it is a sign that schools are getting safer.

Eden said he reviewed data on school districts after the Obama guideline was put in place. From the little data that existed, he found “across the board” drops in achievement, higher levels of truancy, and in some cases, more time spent out of school specifically for black students because more serious incidents were taking place.

“When schools aren’t allowed to enforce basic norms, serious problems increase,” Eden said.

5.) Federal Meddling Leads to Local Failure

Ultimately, one of the biggest problems with the Obama guidance on school discipline is that it injected federal meddling into an issue best handled by states and localities, panelists said.

“A lot of this guidance comes with the discomfort of the excesses of ‘zero tolerance,’” Eden said.

Zero tolerance policies are the other side of the same coin, he said, explaining that they also took power out of teachers’ hands and forced them to take actions against students.

If we don’t want police to be stepping into classrooms, it’s important to allow teachers to use greater discretion about how they discipline students, Eden explained.

Additionally, policies that worked well in some areas failed in others because of the differences among localities, panelists said. The federal government is poorly equipped to handle these nuances.

“When a locality makes a mistake,” Heriot said, “it’s a lot easier to correct at a local level than when the federal government says, ‘You must do this.’”


PTA Responds Like Lightning After de Blasio Pulls Cops from Schools

A New York City Parent Teachers Association demanded city cops patrol a Queens high school, the New York Post reported Sunday.

Francis Lewis High School’s PTA in Fresh Meadows, Queens, is urging politicians to allow armed cops at their public school, following the Parkland Massacre, the New York Post reported.

The New York Police Department recently removed Sgt. Paul Esinet, 50, a well-respected high school cop, from his position.

The officer was reassigned due to Mayor de Blasio’s policy of using unarmed community policing units to patrol neighborhoods and high schools.

Esinet was a popular guard at Francis Lewis and put more than a dozen years into the job.

He regularly attended school meetings to help make the campus safer, staffers said.

PTA co-president Linda Lovett said a petition was circulated then submitted with more than 1,100 signatures to the Department of Education to bring an armed cop back to the school. “The community officer is in no way an acceptable replacement,” the petition reads.

The PTA has serious concerns regarding the lack of security at the overcrowded Queens high school with more than 4,400 students.

“It’s ridiculous,” Lovett said. “All over the country, they are telling you ‘arm the teachers; get an officer in your school.’ New York City had a designated officer and they are actually cutting the program … they are making us less secure.”

Staten Island City Councilmen Steven Matteo and Joe Borelli and Borough President James Oddo also asked de Blasio to have an armed police officer at each of New York City’s 1,700 public schools, at the state Senate Feb. 28.

De Blasio refused, saying the policy would be too expensive, claiming that it would cost the state $12 billion annually, he wrote in a letter in June 2017.

NYPD spokesman Lt. John Grimpel is not aware of any school that has a full-time police officer, he said. “I hope the NYPD and the administration listens to parents and students in the Fresh Meadows community and allows this officer to stay where he has obviously had such a positive impact,” Matteo said.

“Sadly, we live in a world where horrific attacks on our children have become a regular occurrence, but fortunately we also have the greatest police department in the world to protect us.”


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