A complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice last week claims that an “overreliance on unregulated school policing” in the Wake County school district, the largest in North Carolina, violates the rights of black students and those with disabilities and leads to unnecessarily harsh punishments for minor infractions.
Legal Aid of North Carolina Advocates for Children’s Services filed the complaint on behalf of eight students and “all similarly situated students” against the 150,000-student district and the nine law-enforcement agencies that employ school resource officers and dispatch other police into the schools.
It alleges that school officers have used Tasers and pepper spray in discipline incidents, tackled students in crowded hallways, and arrested students for nonviolent infractions, such as throwing water balloons.
Black students and those with disabilities are disciplined and funneled into the criminal-justice system at disproportionate rates, the complaint says.
Over the past five years, black students have represented about a quarter of the district’s enrollment, but they have been cited for up to 74 percent of the delinquency incidents, the complaint says. By contrast, white students, who make up about half of overall enrollment, were at the center of no more than 23 percent of the cases, it adds.
District officials had no comment on the legal action.
The complaint, co-signed by 16 state and national civil rights groups, follows the Jan. 8 release of new discipline guidance from the U.S. Education and Justice departments.
A version of this article appeared in the January 29, 2014 edition of Education Week as N.C. District, Police Agencies Sued Over Discipline Practices