An Alabama school district is guilty of blatant racial bias against its Black students, so says the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The civil rights organization’s analysis of federal stats revealed some damaging truths about Dothan City Schools.
Just 55 percent of the student population is Black, but African-Americans account for 87 percent of out-of-school suspensions, 90 percent of the referrals to the district’s alternative school and 100 percent of the expulsions.
The report also criticized Dothan’s dependence on school resource officers to resolve minor incidents.
Attorneys for the SPLC presented their findings to school board members Monday evening, the Dothan Eagle reports, and they recommended sweeping changes to the system’s disciplinary code, including an end to zero-tolerance policies.
Research has shown that the overly harsh practices disproportionately punish students of color, pushing them out of school and into the juvenile justice system.
The troubling phenomenon, defined by experts as the school-to-prison pipeline, has been fueled by former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. The 2001 legislation’s focus on test scores as the ultimate measure of success has created incentives for low-performing, disproportionately Black and lower-income schools, to weed out their most vulnerable students.
These youths, often left at home alone with no structure, are more likely to eventually drop out of school and/or find themselves in illegal activities.
And it costs the country an estimated $35 billion each year, according to a recent report by UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies.
“People without a high school diploma earn less, have more health problems, and are more likely to get into trouble with the law,” said study co-author Dr. Russell W. Rumberger, professor of education at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “That means less tax revenue and higher health care and criminal justice costs for all of us.”
The SPLC proposed four additional reforms to Dothan’s current system, according to WTVY.
- Reexamine due process procedures for the parents of disciplined children
- Amend the agreement between the system and the city for the school resource officer program
- Collect and report data on law enforcement referrals and school-related arrests
- Provide staff training on policy revisions
Dothan City School Superintendent Charles Ledbetter was receptive to the modifications, suggesting the board members reconvene as early as Thursday to begin work on a new strategy to improve academic achievement and keep students inside of the schools.
“We always have as a back burner, legal action,” attorney Natalie Lyons said, per the Dothan Eagle. “But right now we’re focused on trying to make changes in collaboration with the school district. This is our aim.”
Lyons told AL.com the SPLC focused on Dothan after seeing a news story about a student who was tased by a school resource officer.
“When we looked further into the district, other issues popped up, including racial disparities in discipline, and specifically, suspensions and referrals to the alternative school.”
The SPLC said the Dothan report was just the beginning of a planned statewide analysis.
Education Week ranked the Alabama education system 45th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia for its Quality Counts 2015 report.
The U.S. Department of Education released its Civil Rights Data Collection Tuesday, which showed that Black students are nearly twice as likely to be expelled as white students and almost four times as likely to be suspended.
Not even preschoolers were exempt from racial disparities. Black children accounted for 47 percent of preschool suspensions yet make up only 19 percent of the total population.