The opioid crisis has produced broken families, shattered lives and indescribable tragedy throughout the United States. Drug overdoses have claimed more than 300,000 lives since the year 2000 and have become the leading cause of injury death in the country. In 2016, more than two million Americans had an addiction to prescription or illicit opioids. No community is immune to this “crisis next door.”
On October 26, 2017 President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency. The Presidential Memorandum he issued that day expresses the Administration’s commitment to addressing the opioid crisis and its effects.
The Department of Education and other Federal agencies throughout the Administration are actively combating the opioid crisis. On the newly-created Opioids.gov you can see the magnitude of the crisis and the Administration’s efforts to combat it – from stopping the flow of illicit opioids into the U.S. to providing first responders with overdose-reversing drugs increasing access to treatment. Americans can share their own stories at CrisisNextDoor.gov, and I certainly encourage students, parents and educators to share how they have been impacted.
There’s a lot we as Americans can learn from other countries and how they set their students up for successful lives and careers. That’s why as part of my first trip abroad as Secretary I chose to visit Switzerland and witness their innovative approach to apprenticeships. There this sort of educational opportunity is not only the norm, it is highly coveted by students!
In Switzerland, the education sector partners closely with businesses to provide apprenticeships for students in a variety of professions. Two-thirds of current Swiss students pursue their education through one of the 250 types of government-recognized apprenticeships. Meanwhile, only 17 percent of U.S. students have worked in an internship or apprenticeship related to their career goals.
Over the past several weeks there has been much discussion around how school discipline policies can ensure a safe and supportive climate where children can learn. While there are many different approaches, everyone agrees that discrimination against any student is abhorrent and wrong. Federal laws prohibit such discrimination in our nation’s schools, and the Department’s Office for Civil Rights vigorously enforces these civil rights laws to ensure equal access to education.
According to the Civil Rights Data Collection, African-American students are subject to exclusionary discipline (such as suspensions or expulsions) at higher rates than white students. The data show similar patterns for other groups: for example, boys are suspended more often than girls, as are students with disabilities when compared to students without disabilities. It was in response to this data that the prior administration issued a Dear Colleague Letter, or federal guidance, to states and school districts instructing them to adopt new approaches to school discipline so as to ensure that these students are not disproportionately impacted. Many in the education community cheered this guidance as a positive step.
But since the guidance was released, many educators, parents and students have raised concerns that schools have actually become less safe by restricting teachers’ and administrators’ ability to maintain order in their classrooms. They claim that the guidance ignores the law and places statistics over students without addressing the behavior of individual students and how educators should respond and discipline students when necessary. They view the guidance as creating an unsafe environment that has harmed learning.
That’s why earlier this week the Department hosted two listening sessions about the 2014 guidance. We brought in teachers, parents, students, administrators, researchers, advocates and union representatives to hear their varying views on whether the guidance should be kept as is, amended or rescinded.