U.S. Education Department reaches voluntary resolution agreement following Minneapolis Public School District discipline investigation

educationThe U.S. Department of Education announced the resolution of a compliance review concerning student discipline in the Minneapolis Public School District, the largest school system in Minnesota.

An investigation revealed that Black students in grades K-12 were significantly overrepresented in the district’s disciplinary actions. A voluntary resolution agreement between the district and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) concludes an investigation that examined whether the district’s disciplinary system discriminates against Black students. OCR’s agreement reinforces Title VI’s prohibition on the different treatment of students on the basis of race in the administration of discipline and on the use of policies and procedures that have an unjustified effect of discriminating against students on the basis of race.

“(The) agreement demonstrates the district’s commitment to fair and equitable education for all students,” said Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights. “I applaud the district for its efforts to improve its discipline policies, procedures and practices for the 40,000 students it serves and look forward to working with the district to implement this agreement.”

OCR’s investigation found that Black students were considerably overrepresented in all of the district’s disciplinary actions, including out-of-school suspensions, in-school suspensions, administrative transfers to other schools, referrals to law enforcement as well as detentions, Saturday school, and community service or restitution.

In 2010-11 and 2011-12, Black students made up about 40 percent of the student enrollment, yet were the subject of 74 percent of the district’s recorded disciplinary incidents, and received more than 60 percent of the in-school suspensions, more than 78 percent of the out-of-school suspensions, and more than 69 percent of the referrals to law enforcement.

Black students were also more than 73 percent of the students administratively transferred to a different school for disciplinary reasons. They were also disproportionately represented in discipline for “disruptive, disorderly or insubordinate” behavior, and in 2011-12, were the only students administratively transferred to another school because of disruptive behavior.

Looking behind the numbers, OCR’s investigation revealed that in more than a fourth of the disciplinary incidents targeted for OCR review from the 2011-12 school year, interviews with district staff did not clarify nondiscriminatory reasons for apparently different treatment of students. Instead, OCR’s probe found, among others, several race-based differences in discipline including a school official assigning two white 9th grade students to an alternative instruction room for play fighting, but giving a one-day, out-of school suspension to a Black 10th grade student for the same offense, the assigning of a white student to an alternate instruction room for bullying, but imposing a two-day out-of-school suspension on a Black student who also engaged in bullying and in a sharp contrast the suspending of a Black 2nd grade student for one day for poking another student with a pencil but not suspending a white 2nd grade student who threw a rock and broke a teacher’s sunglasses and also hit another student in the head. That white student was allowed to work off the cost of the sunglasses by helping the teacher at lunch for several days.

OCR’s investigation showed that while the district did not expel any students and did not suspend any preschool students, the district’s exclusionary discipline practices (including out-of-school suspensions) began as early as kindergarten.

Given the significant disparities in the district’s discipline of Black students, the agreement requires the district to comprehensively assess the racial disparities in its administration of discipline and take steps to ensure that discipline is appropriately and equitably applied to all students. The district implemented revised discipline policies and procedures at the start of the 2014-15 school year that included clearer definitions and categories of offenses and emphasized the district’s goal of minimizing the student instruction time lost because of a student’s removal from class due to misbehavior.

December 4, 2014
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