Oklahoma's largest school district is rethinking how it disciplines, especially when it comes to minorities.
The superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools said the district is punishing African American and Hispanic students more than any other district in the nation.
Superintendent Rob Neu said the district only has these kids for six hours a day and rather than kicking students out as punishment, they need to be kept in the classroom to learn.
“Bottom line is when they are not in school, we can't teach them,” he said.
Superintendent Neu called it "disproportionate discipline." He said percentage-wise, OKCPS suspends more African American students and Hispanics than any other in the country. For example, black students make up a quarter of the district's nearly 45,000 kids.
Neu cited an internal audit that he requested, along with a separate report by a UCLA social research firm called Center for Civil Rights Remedies. The combined findings revealed that revealed 75 percent of all black male high school students and half of all black female high school students in the district were suspended at least once in 2012.
Nearly half of all high school students, or 46 percent, were suspended that year. “That's a pretty alarming statistic,” Neu said.
Neu said he wants to stop the practice of automatically using suspensions as discipline. He said out-of-school suspension should only be for extreme circumstances, like fighting, drugs and safety issues. Neu suggested dress code violations, tardiness and truancy could be handled in-house.
“If they're not attending school, then we they do show up, we suspend them and that doesn't really seem to fix the problem,” Neu told News 9.
Superintendent Neu vowed to change discipline policies, rewrite the student code of conduct and monitor suspensions the same way the district monitors academic progress. “What we really need to do is engage students in their learning,” explained Neu. “It starts there - engaged students don't act out,” he added.
The superintendent presented his plan to the school board last night and said changes are already underway.
12/15/2014 Related Story: OKC Public Schools Responds To Civil Rights Complaints
Following a complaint last spring, OKCPS is now at the center of a federal civil rights investigation over claims of race-based harassment and discrimination against Hispanic and black students.