Following the school shootings at Marjory Stoneman and Santa Fe High Schools, President Trump established an executive Commission on School Safety. The Commission’s members were Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education, Kirstjen Nelson, Secretary of Homeland Security, Alex Azar II, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Matthew Whitaker, Acting Attorney General. The Commission was charged with producing policy recommendations in an effort to help prevent future tragedies. After conducting field visits, listening sessions, and meeting with state and local leaders, the Commission issued a report calling for, among other things, “more threads of love, empathy, and connection” in our country’s “moral fabric.”

The report covers a host of school safety topics, including proposed best practices for improving school climate, increasing access to school-based mental health services, coordinating with the media in reporting safety breaches, and school discipline. The report also recommends improving and increasing school safety training, including modules on active shooter preparedness.

Perhaps most controversially, the commission’s recommendations include the suggestion that the U.S. Department of Education rescind the Obama Administration’s school discipline guidance.  That recommendation was carried out immediately on December 21, 2018. The Commission reasoned that state and local districts should “play the primary role in establishing educational policy, including how to handle specific instances of student misconduct and discipline.” The report also expressed doubt as to “the underlying premise that African-American students are overrepresented in disciplinary matters due to racial discrimination,” citing a study that concluded “the racial gap in suspension was completely accounted for by a measure of the prior problem behavior of the student.”

The Report also examined the “Efficacy of Age Restrictions for Firearm Purposes,” and found that “research does not support the conclusion that age restrictions for firearms purchases are effective in reducing homicides, suicides, or unintentional deaths.” Rather, the report encouraged states to “offer[] training or other resources to promote safe storage of firearms,” since “[m]ost school shooters obtain their weapons from family members or friends rather than by purchasing them.”

Other recommendations included “collaborat[ing] with parents to strengthen internet safety measures to curb access to inappropriate content,” implementing community-based programs such as “If You See Something, Say Something” to encourage and facilitate “the reporting of suspicious activities or other concerning behaviors,” and instituting “character education” curriculum and programming to “help students feel connected to, rather than isolated from, teachers and fellow students.”

As the report makes clear, school leaders are faced with the difficult task of forging a path forward that accounts for the complicated legal, political, and social dynamics issues of our time. Understanding this reality, Husch Blackwell is pleased to offer a free half-day School Safety Symposium to superintendents and school board members. The Symposium aims to promote the safety of our schools through an open discussion and thought leadership. To register, please click here.