WE DIDN’T have high expectations for the school safety commission established by President Trump following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. When asked if guns would be a subject, the study leader, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, replied, “That is not part of the commission’s charge, per se.” But even low expectations proved optimistic when the commission revealed its brightest idea: scrapping a federal policy that protects minority students from unfair discipline.
The Federal Commission on School Safety, convened after 17 students and staff members were shot to death Feb. 14 in Parkland, Fla., released its final report last week. As Ms. DeVos had forecast, it glossed over the central role of firearms and their all-too-easy availability. The 177-page report gave a nod to laws allowing a process to take guns from those seen as a risk, and it includes some sensible and non-controversial recommendations such as improvement of access to school mental-health services, the need for vigilance and the use of best practices against cyberbullying. Notably, though, there were no recommendations for new money to support educators or help struggling students.
Most dubious were the commission’s call to harden schools into fortresses (including training school personnel in the use of firearms) and its misplaced focus on Obama-era disciplinary policies. Most school shootings are committed by white males. That didn’t stop the commission, which includes three other Cabinet members, from recommending a rollback of guidance issued in 2014 to curb racial disparities in discipline. Black students, starting from preschool, are more often disciplined in school and receive harsher punishments than white students for comparable offenses. The 2014 guidance — which on Friday was formally rescinded by Ms. DeVos and acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker — properly prodded schools to examine disproportionate discipline rates for black students and reminded schools they can be held accountable for violations of federal civil rights laws.
The guidance was non-binding and, as Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (Va.), ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee who will become committee chair next year, rightly pointed out, had absolutely no connection to school shootings. “Rather than confronting the role of guns in gun violence, the Trump administration blames school shootings on civil rights enforcement,” he said in a statement.
Sadly, the Trump administration was never going to embrace policies that might actually help, such as universal background checks for gun purchases or a ban on the military-style assault weapons that have become the weapon of choice for mass shooters. But using school shootings that have been perpetrated by angry young white men to justify punishing black schoolchildren disproportionately is particularly base.