The U.S. Department of Education announced on Wednesday it has reached a settlement agreement with the Oklahoma City Public Schools to address disproportionate discipline of black students.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, an investigation revealed black students were significantly over-represented in disciplinary actions. Before the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) had completed its probe, the district expressed an interest in resolving the case voluntarily, resulting in the agreement announced on Wednesday.
The agreement is aimed at correcting Oklahoma City’s discipline practices to ensure that the district satisfies its civil rights obligations to its students going forward.
“I applaud the district for its commitment to improving its discipline policies, procedures and practices for the students it serves every school day, including through evaluation of its reliance on and training for school resource officers,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights. “I appreciate the positive steps the district took during the course of our investigation and I look forward to working with the district to implement this agreement.”
According to the Education Department, OCR’s investigation found that black students were considerably over-represented 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 record keeping; 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.
In response, officials said the district has undertaken a number of corrective steps, including initiating a review of its discipline policies and practices and its discipline code. The district also created the Office of School Climate and Student Discipline and hired a director of school climate and student discipline and three student behavior specialists.
The agreement, in part:
Wednesday’s agreement resolves one of three OCR investigations of the Oklahoma City district. The two ongoing investigations involve complaints alleging the district failed to provide male and female students with equal opportunity and access with respect to athletic activities. Additionally, the complaints allege that the district discriminated against students with disabilities with regard to the provision of a free appropriate public education.
The Oklahoma City Public Schools District released the following statement,
"The Oklahoma City Public School District (OKCPS) signed a resolution issued by the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights regarding inequitable discipline practices toward minority students.
Several of the requirements detailed in the agreement have been addressed by OKCPS, including creation of the Office of Discipline and Student Climate.
There are additional required corrective actions the district will be implementing and monitoring as part of the agreed upon resolution. OKCPS is in the process of developing a plan to address every aspect of the resolution.
OKCPS is appreciative of the efforts by the Office of Civil Rights, and we are taking action to make sure each and every one of our students is treated in an equitable manner."