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U.S. Department of Education Received over 10,000 Civil Rights Complaints in 2015, Working to Address Racial Disparities in School Discipline

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An overwhelming amount of investigations into civil rights complaints during the 2015 fiscal year has prompted the U.S. Department of Education to address the wide racial disparities in school discipline.

In their yearly report titled, “Delivering Justice,” the U.S. Department of Education revealed a record number of civil rights complaints last year, News One reports. Per the report, there were a total of 10,392 complaints; over 3,000 of those were complaints based on race, gender, national origin or disability. Over 1,000 of those cases were resolved by federal officials.

The report also compiled the number of complaints made concerning sexual violence, web accessibility and overtime involving English learners.

“Through our guidance, technical assistance, data collection, and investigatory work, the department’s message to the public is clear: We are committed to working with and supporting schools to protect students’ civil rights — and we will take action to secure those rights when necessary,” U.S. Secretary of Education John King said in a statement.

The Department recently probed the Oklahoma City Public school system and found that during the 2011-2012 school year, Black students were disproportionately given in and out-of-school suspensions, referrals to law enforcement, and even arrested, according to News One. Complaints were also filed by African-American parents alleging racial bias in the North Carolina School district.

“There’s a war on Black students. There’s a war on Black America,” said Amaju Dillahunt, a freshman at North Carolina Central University, during a meeting organized by the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights as part of its investigation into the district’s reported racial bias.

According to the Department’s Rethink School Discipline guide, created for school superintendents, Black students are three times more likely than their white counterparts to be suspended or expelled from school. The guide also states that this disparity begins as early as preschool. For instance, the DOE reports that African-American children make up just 18 percent of preschoolers, yet half of them have been suspended from preschool more than once.

“Progress has not been fast enough,” King told News One. “There’s a lot more work to do on this.”

Per the DOE website, the Rethink School Discipline guide was created to “share promising practices and useful resources for implementing and sustaining safe and supportive school climate and discipline in collaboration with local stakeholders.”

According to King, over 40 school districts have vowed to make significant amends to their discipline practices by following the Rethink School Discipline guidelines. The secretary of education identified teacher and principal training as key proponents of addressing racial disparities in school discipline and also noted the importance of replacing old policies with effective behavior interventions, like restorative justice, News One reports.

The news site also reports that secretary King recently sat down to speak with Michelle King, Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. The two discussed how America’s second-largest school district is handling its new discipline polices, according to News One.

“She [Michelle] pointed out that a critical element of their effort is good professional development for teachers and principals, so they could effectively implement alternatives,” he said.

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