The U.S. Department of Education has launched a probe into the Seattle Public Schools over the complaints that the district discriminates against its students based on race. Specifically, the DOE is attempting to find out why African-American students are suspended from school at three times the rate of whites, with a full quarter of black students receiving some kind of a suspension every year.
African-Americans aren’t the only group singled out for more punishment. According to The Seattle Times, Native Americans are also disciplined more frequently than either Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders. The investigation was officially kicked off last May, but wasn’t made public until KUOW radio aired a report about earlier this week.
District Superintendent José Banda acknowledged problems with student discipline — and said he intends to do something about them. Banda pledged cooperation with the investigation and said he expects the Department of Education will find disproportionate disciplining of black students.
Banda added that he wasn’t waiting for the verdict from the federal investigation to take action. Already, two advisory committees have been set up to study the “disproportionality in discipline.”
According to Banda, he had no idea when the investigation will conclude or what its findings and recommendations will be.
This is not the first time that federal officials are looking at discipline statistics in a large urban school district. Last fall, DOE settled California’s Oakland Unified School District over similar claim, with district officials promising to study alternative means of punishment. They also agreed to consult experts when designing a discipline policy that was race- and gender-neutral.
James Bible, president of the Seattle-King County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, welcomed the federal investigation, saying uneven treatment of races is “so deeply embedded in the fabric of this particular school district, and perhaps others in our region, that it’s absolutely necessary for outside entities to intervene.
“I think that until we have true transparency and something in place in terms of the outside looking in, we’re not going to see much in terms of change here,” Bible said.
American Civil Liberties Union of Washington spokesman Doug Honig says that the organization has in the past expressed concern about the nearly 50,000 students who were being expelled or suspended every year, without a provision being made for alternative means of schooling. Honig said that such policies could be a contributing factor to achievement gaps because being outside of class for so longer means that students are falling father behind their peers.