An Open Letter about the Federal School Safety Commission Report

Education Policy Creators and Decision Makers


Betsy DeVos has once again dismantled protections that we need in our schools to protect our most vulnerable students. The recent release of the Federal School Safety Commission Report and the subsequent rollback of regulations around school discipline speak directly to her intent to dismantle public education. We urge schools to take the lead in keeping policies in place to protect youth and reject those that can lead to harm.

Petition by
Melissa Tomlinson
Stoughton, Massachusetts

To: Education Policy Creators and Decision Makers
From: [Your Name]

We, the undersigned individuals, share many concerns about the recommendations put forth in the Final Report of the Federal Commission of School Safety. We urge you to take a deeper look into these issues and create recommendations that will be proactive instead of reactive while still upholding previous legislative guidance that pushes schools to examine how students in different racial groups are punished as a result of disciplinary procedures. Disparities found in school districts still need to lead to a federal review to make a determination whether a district had violated a civil rights law.

The largest concern with these recommendations is the call to rollback the “Rethink School Discipline” guidance. With a workforce that has a higher proportion of white educators, this guidance was put into place to make sure school systems become aware of and are thinking about internal implicit biases that affects decision making when considering school discipline.

The creation of this guidance has lead to the dismantling of school discipline rules that fed into a system of institutionalized racism by negatively impacting a larger portion of youth of color. Without such guidance, schools will no longer be held accountable for maintaining an awareness of how implicit biases affect our youth. The recommendation calling for an upholding of investigations around cases of intentional discrimination to not go nearly far enough in addressing issues within our school systems and society.

Training School Personnel to Help Ensure Student Safety recommendations are another example of the reactive nature of this report and are nothing more than a nod of approval for increased guns in schools and the arming of teachers. This goes against the intent of working to provide a safe school environment. Guns are not a failsafe measure to the possibility of gun violence and we should not be subjecting students to a climate that carries a message of never-ending potential violence. This includes the increasing exposure to active shooter shooter drills that are damaging the mental health stability of students and increasing anxiety.

We maintain that the creation of a safe atmosphere for our students starts with the knowledge of brain development and an understanding of the needs of children that need to be met before education will have a positive impact. While this report circles around the creation of a safe learning environment, it does nothing to proactively make changes that will place educators in the forefront of this endeavor. Instead, as an additional measure, it calls for the placement of retired military personnel and law enforcement officers, suggesting that understanding child development and education is not a crucial component of creating safe school environments.

The framing of this report as well as the related solutions proposed because of what seems to be a “law and order” mindset operates under the premise that view students as potential criminals. Calls for an increase monitoring of social media and personal interactions put us dangerously close to a police-state existence that can potentially border on an infringement of privacy. Add to that a normalization of a reporting system for suspicious behaviors and we move a step closer to an Orwellian society.

When addressing youth mental health issues, care needs to be taken into consideration that the the educational systems do not become an outlet for pharmaceutical companies to oversee youth care and push psychotropic medications on youth that are not absolutely necessary. Without a comprehensive understanding of the developing executive functioning processes and decision-making capabilities within youth, the immediate response to turn toward mental health can be concerning.

The Final Report of the School Safety Commission outlines several recommendations for policy writers and decision makers to consider. But the report itself is merely an overview of suggested recommendations - not concrete changes that are being dictated down to our states and our districts. As educators, we know what our students need, what our schools need, and what our communities need. We must stand strong to reject recommendations that instead of providing safety for our students, cause irreparable harm and move us backwards away from closing racial disparities. We urge you to uphold policies and procedures that have been established and proven to be effective in doing so.