The school year is over, but a new race-based missive from Washington will loom over teachers and students all summer.

Just before Memorial Day, federal education officials issued a “Dear Colleague” letter telling the nation’s educators that the Biden administration is resurrecting a policy of investigating and coercing schools to adopt more lenient discipline policies.

This policy originated under President Barack Obama’s administration but was rescinded in 2018 by a commission led by then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The Federal Commission on School Safety found that parents and local educators are better at deciding when a student’s disruptive actions warrant suspension or expulsion than are quotas handed down from Washington.

The reprieve from race-based federal manipulation was short-lived.

Federal policymakers from the Justice Department and Education Department released a letter to K-12 schools stating: “Significant disparities by race—beginning as early as preschool—have persisted in the application of student discipline in schools.”

Yet what if the student behavior is the issue, not skin color?

A new survey from the Education Department finds that 84% of school personnel report that “the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the behavioral development of students” and a plurality of 46% said that “threats of physical attacks or fights between students” have increased since before the pandemic.

Fully 39% of school personnel report that physical fights between students are up, the survey finds. And 61% said “classroom disruptions from student misconduct” also have increased.

Vandalism, out-of-control behavior in school hallways, verbal abuse—all have increased since before the pandemic. Yet the new letter from Washington redirects attention to students’ ethnicities instead of classroom safety.

This isn’t the first time this year that the Education Department has tried to micromanage local school safety policies and emphasize racial preferences.

The agency issued a report in March that urged educators to use “restorative justice” practices instead of suspension and expulsion, although exercises such as “restorative circles” and other conversation-style interventions leave disruptive students in class with their peers, even after they have been violent or otherwise interfered.

School officials in Broward County, Florida, had employed these methods for years before an expelled student shot and killed 17 at his high school in 2018, opening school leaders to intense criticism.

These new reports from the Justice and Education departments warn schools that employ school resource officers that their activities should be limited. Emails obtained by The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project under the Freedom of Information Act show that the two agencies coordinated their statements on school resource officers. The Justice Department report says these officers should undergo “anti-bias” training and use restorative justice practices.

Not all school districts are ready to limit school resource officers, though. In Washington, D.C., which is under federal authority, local policymakers are reconsidering their 2020 decision to remove all school resource officers by 2025.

The last three budget proposals from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, have included “fully funding” school resource officers in District of Columbia Public Schools, according to The Washington Post.

The Post’s editorial board praised these proposals, writing: “Many cities yanked officers out of schools while reassessing policing after George Floyd’s 2020 murder. However well-intentioned, the experiment has left kids more vulnerable and classrooms less safe amid surging youth violence.” 

Neighboring jurisdictions such as Alexandria, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland, also are considering hiring more school resource officers, as are Boston and Phoenix, the Post’s editorial board wrote.

Two students were shot in separate incidents in just the last two weeks near D.C. high schools, police said. A D.C. Council committee notes that 77 knives, 15 tasers, and five guns were found on the school system’s campuses in the 2021-2022 school year.

Incidents such as these, along with surveys showing a surge in disruptive student behavior after the pandemic, explain why the new federal guidance on limiting school resource officers and calling for racial preferences in student discipline isn’t what schools need.

School officials should judge each disciplinary incident on its own merits. Parents and educators know their students and their schools best, and they should decide how to keep students safe and maintain order.

They can do that without letters from Washington that reek of racial quotas.  

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