By Jake Hofstetter | Research and Policy Associate

In the wake of the massacres in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas, the Trump administration proposed several steps, such as arming teachers, to improve school safety. In addition to these proposals, the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her Commission on School Safety released a report that also contained an unrelated policy change — rescinding the Obama administration’s school discipline reforms. Doing away with this policy doesn’t decrease the chances of school shootings. It doesn’t make schools safer. But it does allow schools to discipline students more freely and without considering the harm and racial discrimination that occurs when kids are removed from class.

The Obama administration’s school discipline recommendations were a step in the right direction. The 2014 guidelines recommended school administrators use removals from class or school less frequently due to the harm caused to students’ academic performance. Besides the lack of evidence showing removals improved behavior, these practices were (and still are) having a disproportionate impact on minority students and those with disabilities. To take the place of removals from class, the Obama guidelines encouraged more restorative discipline practices. These policies focused on students’ social and emotional well-being in order to foster safe, nurturing schools. To enforce these guidelines, the Obama administration warned of investigations into schools with serious racial disparities in discipline. Despite the evidence against harsh school discipline practices, the Secretary DeVos’ Commission cancelled the Obama guidelines, citing concerns for school safety and local control over education. School safety matters of course, but there’s something willfully old-fashioned in the administration’s desire to allow harmful school discipline practices to continue for the sake of “maintaining order.”

Admittedly school discipline may seem straightforward and uncontroversial to a lot of Americans. A student breaks the rules, his or her name gets called over the loudspeaker to report to the principal’s office, and the student gets punished. Yet the type of punishment matters a lot. Taking students out of class through detention or suspension harms their chances at academic success. Plus, there’s evidence the practice doesn’t stop misbehavior. We also shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that disciplining students is neutral. Black and Latino students are disciplined at greater rates than their white peers even when controlling for poverty and discipline type. Without the threat of federal investigation, there’s no way to tell how school districts across the country will respond. The Obama guidelines may have converted some districts to more effective discipline approaches, but others may return to harmful practices that will lead to worse outcomes for minority, disabled, and LGBT students.

Even though we can’t guarantee what will happen in schools across the country, Massachusetts can continue this important work. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education deserves praise and recognition for its commitment to the principles laid out in the Obama administration’s guidelines despite the new stance of the federal government. Massachusetts Appleseed will also remain committed to our efforts to reform school discipline practices and disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. Through our Keep Kids in Class project, Massachusetts Appleseed has provided know-your-rights guides for parents, advocated for less exclusionary discipline practices in schools, and published original research on the state of school discipline across Massachusetts. Despite changes in Washington D.C., we remain dedicated to removing barriers to access to public education and supporting at-risk youth to keep kids in class where they are safe, supported, and free to learn.


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Robert F. Rivers, Good Apple Award Recipient

Save the Date!

March 28, 2019
6:00 pm Reception
7:00 pm Award Ceremony
Boston Harbor Hotel, Wharf Room

12th Annual Good Apple Award

On Thursday, March 28th 2019 Massachusetts Appleseed will host its 12th annual Good Apple reception at the Boston Harbor Hotel. We are pleased to announce that this year’s recipient of the Good Apple Award will be Robert F. Rivers, Chair and CEO of Eastern Bank.

The Good Apple Award is presented annually to one member of our Massachusetts business or legal community who exemplifies MA Appleseed’s commitment to public service, fairness, and social justice. Throughout his career, Bob has demonstrated his devotion to standing up for our most vulnerable communities. In his role as a civic leader, he inspires profound and positive change.

Bob is Chair and CEO of Eastern Bank, America’s oldest and largest mutual bank and the largest independent community bank headquartered in Massachusetts with $11 billion in assets and over 120 locations. He is also Chair of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable and the Dimock Center.

Bob is involved extensively in the community, serving on the Board of Directors of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Jobs for Mass, and The Lowell Plan. He also is a member of the Board of Trustees of Stonehill College, the Northern Essex Community College Foundation,

the Board of Corporators of Lowell General Hospital, the Advisory Boards of the Lawrence Partnership and JFK Library Foundation, and is a member of the City of Boston’s Women’s Workforce Council, in addition to providing support and guidance to numerous other non-profit organizations. Bob has been named among the Top 10 “Most Influential People in Boston” by Boston Magazine, and to the Boston Business Journal Power 50 list for the last three years.

Named after the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Bob’s passion for advocating for social justice causes and sustainability issues is the result of a personal and professional journey that began early in his life. Bob has been recognized by many organizations for his work in championing diversity and social justice, including The Boston Globe, The Partnership, Get Konnected!, Color Magazine, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), the Asian American Civic Association (AACA), Association of Latino Professionals For America (ALPFA), El Planeta, the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, The Theater Offensive, and MassINC.

For sponsorship opportunities or tickets, click here. Please contact Madeline Poage at with any questions.

Save the Date (PDF)

2019 Good Apple Award Recipient (PDF)