The Seattle Times reports that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is investigating whether Seattle Public Schools discriminates against African-American students by disciplining them “more frequently and more harshly than similarly situated white students,” said ED spokesman Jim Bradshaw. In the Seattle district, African-American students are suspended from school more than three times as often as white students from elementary schools to high schools. More than one-fourth of black middle schoolers have received short-term suspensions every year since 1996. Native Americans are disciplined more often than Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
District Superintendent José Banda acknowledged problems with student discipline – and said he intends to do something about them. Banda pledged cooperation with the investigation and said he expects ED will find disproportionate disciplining of black students. “I think we have a serious problem here,” Banda said. “We do. We acknowledge that. We acknowledge the fact that the data is clear that there is a disproportionate number of students of color being suspended and expelled.”
Seattle Public Schools has set up two advisory committees – one called Positive Climate and Discipline, the other Equity and Race – that are studying disproportionality in discipline. Banda said he did not know how long ED’s compliance review will take, and Bradshaw declined to provide additional information.
About two years ago, Seattle’s School Board asked to see statistics on expulsions. “Those numbers showed us we had a growing problem,” said Board President Kay Smith-Blum. “They showed a disproportionate amount of students being disciplined at the suspension or expulsion level in our minority groups.” Banda and several board members said discipline policies should be clear and consistent and should, in most cases, provide a way for students to continue their studies even if they are removed from their regular classrooms.
Several board members and a district spokeswoman said they were not aware of ED’s investigation, which began last year. “I just became aware of that myself,” Banda said. The district’s new attorney, Modessa Jacobs, recently told other district officials that ED was requesting district data as part of its review.
Source: The Seattle Times, 3/5/13, By Keith Ervin and Maureen O’Hagan
[Editor's Note: In October 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, which reported that in the face of a civil rights investigation for disciplining black students more harshly than their white peers, the school board for the Oakland Unified School District voted to accept five years of federal monitoring.
In August 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Courier-Post, which reported that the Camden Board of Education in New Jersey had agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a suit brought by seven Hispanic elementary school students, who were made to eat lunch on the floor as punishment for spilling a jug of water. The February 2008 incident stirred claims of bias and underscored tensions between the city’s black and Hispanic communities.]