Oklahoma City Public Schools District Outlines Civil Rights Reforms

Wednesday, April 6th 2016, 3:44 pm
By: Grant Hermes

In an effort to be transparent, Oklahoma City School Public Schools released its list of discipline reforms at Monday's board meeting working to end a federal investigation accusing the district of unfairly disciplining students of color.

The district’s attorney called the reforms “intense” but said the district and Superintendent Robert Neu had been attempting to address the issues since complaints were brought more than a year and a half ago. The formal investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has been probing the district since 2007.

“We have not hidden the fact that we believe there are issues with our discipline process,” Carey said.

Despite the complaints, the investigation and the reforms, the district maintains the reforms aren't an admission of any wrongdoing.

“We know that there's disproportionate discipline. We know that there's an issue we need to fix. What we are not admitting is that we're in violation of federal law,” Carey said.

However, the reforms will cost the district money, something that may be difficult for a cash strapped school system. Recently OKC Public Schools announced it will be cutting 208 teaching positions with projections of a $30 million loss the next two years for schools amid state budget cuts and a billion dollar revenue shortfall.

“They may very well cost money, but we'll have to make decisions,” said Carey. “One thing about the federal government they're not all that concerned whether we have the money.”

Currently, the OCR has two other complaints open against the school. One alleges the district is unfairly disciplining students with disabilities, alleging staff is suspending or expelling handicapped or challenged students more than non-disabled students.

The other alleges the district did not provide equal opportunity to after school groups such as athletics. Carey said there has been no movement on resolving those complaints as of Tuesday.

The reforms come as a seven step process. According to the presentation given at the board meeting and Carey, several steps have already been completed, are in the process of completion or are expected to be in place by the 2016-2017 school year. 

The reforms are below. Any steps made are according to the presentation unless otherwise noted.

  • Create a Discipline Supervisor to oversee district wide discipline. As of July 2015 the district has created an Office of School Climate and Discipline (OSCD) led by Director Chuck Tompkins.
  • Collaborate with experts in non-discriminatory discipline practices. The district began this in part during July by providing Personal Behavioral Intervention Support training in several schools.
  • Provide training to teachers, staff, aides, administration and resource officers in proper discipline. The Oklahoma State School Board Association trained principals and assistant principals in the fall of 2015, according to Carey.
  • Create annual student forums in every middle and high school, including charter and alternative schools, to discuss improvements. The district already has a Student Code of Conduct Committee and plans to increase its role within the district.
  • Review due process for disciplinary procedures. In January of 2016, the district revised the student code of conduct to reflect changes in due process but more revisions are expected.
  • Implement support for student and school climate surveys. The district has already contracted with two Washington based firms, The Learner First and Equal Opportunity Schools have already begun surveying several schools. The district did not release them immediately.
  • Start the process of reviewing and analyzing the root cause of discrimination in the district. This will be done by using data collected by the OSCD and through The Learner First.