The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced Tuesday that it has filed a series of civil rights complaints against Florida school districts that subject African-American students to harsh disciplinary policies at rates that are far higher than for white students.
The complaints were filed with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and describe how African-American students in the school districts in Escambia, Bay, Okaloosa, Flagler and Suwannee counties are suspended, expelled and arrested at school for relatively minor and non-violent conduct.
The school districts’ own annual reports to the Florida Department of Education demonstrate the discriminatory impact of their disciplinary policies.
In Bay county schools, African-American students account for 30 percent of all out of school suspensions even though they comprise only 15 percent of the student population.
In Okaloosa county schools, African-American students account for 24 percent of all out of school suspensions even though they make up only 12 percent of the student population.
In Escambia county schools, African-American students account for 65 percent of all out of school suspensions, but they represent only 36 percent of the student population.
The complaints explain how the school districts have imposed long term suspensions on children as young as eight for minor rule infractions such as tardiness, inappropriate cell phone usage, talking in class and dress code violations.
The complaints also describe how the school districts fail to provide school principals with specific disciplinary guidelines and procedures. This grants principals the power to remove students from school for vague and often minor rule infractions.
Several cases described in the complaint illustrate how African-American children are punished more harshly and more frequently than white students.
12 year old D.G., a student in Bay County, received 23 days of out of school suspension during the 2011-2012 school year for minor infractions such as chewing gum, “mouthing off,” and talking in class.
11 year old J.B., an elementary student in Okaloosa County, received a five day suspension for having a cell phone in class. The school district classified it as “inappropriate behavior.”
M.C., a student in Escambia County, was suspended and arrested for “trespassing” after purchasing a hot meal at a neighboring high school. Before this incident, M.C. had no history of discipline issues.
Florida has amended its zero-tolerance discipline law encourage schools to handle minor behavioral problems with in school discipline rather than harsh policies that decrease a student’s time in the regular classroom. While each district has changed its written policies, practices have not changed. Many school districts continue to suspend students for lengthy periods, send them to alternative schools, expel them or unnecessarily refer them to the juvenile justice system.
The Bay County Chapter of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition will be holding a Press Conference Tuesday at 1:00 pm, in front of the United States District Court, located at 30 W. Government Street, Panama City. The purpose of the press conference is to announce that the Southern Poverty Law Center has filed United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Complaints against Bay District Schools.
All of the thirteen Bay County complaintants, the largest amount of the five northern counties, were discovered through Education Forums on the School Discipline and Zero Tolerance Policies spearheaded, during the 2011 - 2012 school year, by the Bay County Chapter of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Parents of students involved in the complaints have been invited to give a statement at the local press conference. A "Back-To-School Forum: School Discipline & The Zero Tolerance Policy" will be held Tuesday at 6:00 pm. the Glenwood Community Center, 722 E. 9th Court. There will be a presentation from the SPLC.