To resolve an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education the Oklahoma City district has agreed to take steps to reduce disproportionately high discipline rates for black students, the federal agency’s office for civil rights announced Wednesday.
The voluntary agreement obligates the district to do increase training for staff about disciplinary practices, and use interventions to support positive student behavior. It also must revise discipline policies, increase collection of data regarding discipline and school climate, and reduce exclusionary discipline. The district also agreed to a comprehensive review of its school resource officer program to ensure that police aren’t playing an improper role in school discipline.
The district agreed to the resolution before federal officials completed an investigation into the overrepresentation of black students in disciplinary data.
From the agency’s preliminary findings:
OCR's investigation found that black students were considerably overrepresented in all of the district's disciplinary actions. For example, for the 2014-15 school year, OCR's investigation exposed a high rate of black students being referred for discipline as compared with white students. Notably, black students accounted for 42 percent of in-school suspensions although they represent only 26 percent of the population. Likewise, for the 2011-12 school year, black students received in-school and out-of-school suspensions, were referred to law enforcement, and were arrested for school-related incidents at statistically significant proportions compared to their enrollment in the district. During the course of OCR's investigation, the district initiated an internal audit. Both OCR's investigation and the audit found scores of concerns including: incomplete and inconsistent recordkeeping; inconsistent provision of due process rights; that the district as an entity is inconsistent in its discipline practices; there are inconsistencies within individual schools themselves; there are inconsistencies in information provided to parents when their children were suspended; and that parameters of certain disciplinary sanctions are unclear, such as "defiance of authority" and "disrespect" among others."
The office for civil rights has two other ongoing investigations into the Oklahoma City district stemming from the same complaint, it said. Those investigations involve allegations that the district didn’t provide equal access to athletics for male and female students and that it discriminates against students with disabilities.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.