A Texas school district is being accused of violating black students’ civil rights because those students are cited by police four times as frequently as their peers for profane language and disrupting class. In addition, although black students make up less than a quarter of the Bryan school district’s students, they received more than half of police citations at school, the NAACP and the National Center for Youth Law said in a complaint filed last week with the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights.
In the complaint, the groups say the disproportionate discipline persists in the area because the 15,500-student district hires local police officers to enforce school rules.
“In a very real sense, the Bryan school district is using law enforcement as its disciplinary arm. The school district must be held accountable for the disproportionate impact on African-American students, who are also much more likely to be suspended and expelled from Bryan schools,” said Michael Harris, a senior lawyer with the National Center for Youth Law.
Police in Bryan can issue tickets to students for a range of behaviors, and the tickets require students to appear in court and face fines, community-service hours, and behavior-management classes. If they don’t appear, students may be arrested and jailed.
Across Texas, the ticketing of students and the repercussions of those tickets have been a concern for some time. In 2010, a report by Texas Appleseed found that 275,000 tickets—excluding traffic citations—are issued to juveniles in the Lone Star State each year.
The complaints add to growing concern about the addition of school police officers taking place across the country following the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
What will become of the civil rights complaint remains to be seen, but the Education Department’s civil rights office has been particularly tough on districts over disparities in discipline policies and practices in recent years, coming down hard on the Oakland, Calif., school district last year, for example.
A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2013 edition of Education Week as Federal Complaint on Disciplinary Practices Filed