In January of 2014, the Obama Administration injected the federal government into education at the state and local levels, eager to make modifications on the disciplinary front. The “Dear Colleague” letter authored by the Department of Education sought to correct perceived injustices in the public school system — insisting that minorities had been broadly discriminated against. Now, a push to rescind these policies is gaining traction.
On Tuesday, June 12, The Wisconsin Institute For Law & Liberty (WILL) issued a press release urging the Secretary of Education under President Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, to repeal the school suspension policies enacted following the 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter. The group argues that there have been clear ramifications from these policies on the Milwaukee Public School District, and claims that the Obama Administration’s actions are unlawful, to begin with.
The “Dear Colleague” letter reads, in part, “Students of certain racial or ethnic groups tend to be disciplined more than their peers,” adding, “Research suggests that the substantial racial disparities of the kind reflected in the CRDC data are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color.” Although universal desire exists to fairly and justly discipline all pupils regardless of immutable characteristics, the measures imposed by President Obama’s Department of Education have been an immense failure. School districts have been forced to adopt policies ultimately correlating to poorer student performances in key subjects.
According to the recently issued report by WILL, “Using 7 years of data from over 2,000 Wisconsin public schools, WILL found lower math and reading proficiency in Wisconsin schools that implemented … a federally funded program the Obama Administration pressured districts to implement.” While the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports system (PBIS) was put into place with the intent of creating an environment that is more conducive to learning, it failed to do so; having an opposite effect in actuality.
Those who have argued in favor of the legality of the “Dear Colleague” letter cite to a regulation that, in some cases, prohibits those who receive federal funding from employing “methods of administration which have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, or national origin.” However, given that the Supreme Court has ruled this text only applies to intentional discrimination, the letter has no legal standing. Although the assertion can be made that unfairness exists in the disciplinary system, no doctrine at an institutional level deliberately punishes racial and ethnic minorities more severely than their white counterparts.
WILL emphasizes this point in its press release, stating that the letter is “an illegal federal intrusion into local K-12 public schools.” The group disputes the reasoning of proponents of the Obama Administration’s policy, by noting (as mentioned previously), that the Supreme Court has found that the statutes cited by these individuals apply only to intentional discrimination. The press release adds, “Federal regulation cannot create authority that does not exist in the authorizing federal law, and thus the rights and duties the Department of Education purported to establish in the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter are built on sand.”
It has been widely speculated that Secretary DeVos is strongly considering rescinding the letter. If she decides to do so, it will be a major victory for the Wisconsin Institute For Law & Liberty, advocates spanning the country, and, ultimately, students of the public school system like myself.