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Op-Ed: The Education Department's double standard on school discipline

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and on the issue of political correctness Donald Trump has a point. For evidence, just look at the Education Department’s ridiculous double standard on school discipline.

In 2011, in response to perfectly legitimate and reasonable concerns about the prevalence of sexual misconduct on campuses across the country, the department sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter with an unreasonable demand. It instructed colleges and universities to lower the standard of proof in cases of alleged sexual assault. Instead of requiring “clear and convincing” evidence, the department said, schools should require only a “preponderance of the evidence,” the better to find students guilty.

Law professors across the country have condemned that standard for violating the rights of the accused — and it’s not hard to see why. Colorado State University-Pueblo recently expelled a student-athlete for sexual assault even though the woman in question said their relationship was consensual, told investigators “I’m fine and I wasn’t raped,” and the two had sex again later.

The Education Department is now investigating 192 colleges and universities for not prosecuting sexual misconduct cases more aggressively. And yet for grades K-12, the Education Department has been hammering schools for being too aggressive on school discipline, especially when it comes to suspensions, because of their alleged “disparate impact” on minorities.

Two years ago the department issued guidance warning schools that they “violate Federal law when they evenhandedly implement facially neutral policies” if those policies affect minority students more than non-minority students. Under that standard, a school that metes out exactly the same punishment to every student who breaks the rules is not discriminating if black students commit fewer infractions per capita — but it is discriminating if they happen to commit more.

Since schools cannot punish white students who have done nothing wrong, at certain times the only way to avoid this dilemma, and hence the wrath of federal officials, will be to refrain from punishing minority students in cases where the students are at fault.

In short, an Education Department fixated on leftist identity politics has incentivized colleges and universities to convict some students who might be innocent — and incentivized K-12 schools not to convict some students who might be guilty. For liberals trying to unpack the mystery of Donald Trump’s appeal, this would be a good place to start.

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