Wake County, NC Schools Taking Criticism Over Discipline Stats

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(Photo: the blue diamond gallery, Creative Commons)

According to black parents, activists, and students who spoke with federal education officials, the Wake County, North Carolina school system discriminates against African-American students and is unfair to them when it comes to disciplinary actions.

As a part of their continuing investigation into the district’s policies on discrimination and discipline, the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights called for a meeting.

Approximately 75 people gathered at the Vital Link Center, close to downtown Raleigh, and those assembled spoke about their concerns that black students were being abused because of their race, writes T. Keung Hui for The News & Observer.

A grandmother said all she wanted was for her granddaughter to get a “proper education.” Last week, she explained, her 7-year-old grandchild was written up for saying “white people are fools.”

Since 2010, the US Education Department has investigated North Carolina’s largest district after federal civil rights complaints. But Wake school officials say they have taken steps since 2010 to lower the number of suspensions. One of the major suggestions was that schools find alternative methods to enforce suspensions, such as in-school alternatives, and another was to begin to use suspension sparingly as a disciplinary method. But, just like many other districts, the percentage of black students who receive suspensions is greater than their percentage in the total student population.

“African-American students are not a majority of the population. Often times, they are less than 25 percent of the student population, and yet the majority of those who are being suspended, expelled, or arrested,” said Sanyu Gichie with the Youth Organizing Institute.

A February report stated that black students account for less than a quarter of all students in Wake County schools, but these students made up 63% of the last academic year’s 11,800 suspensions. In comparison, Caucasian students accounted for 16% of all suspensions last year. Fifteen percent of the suspensions were doled out to Hispanic young people.

Also, 850 students were transferred to the court system during the time between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015, and 69% of these pupils were black. During this same time, 22% of kids referred to courts were white and 8% were Hispanic.

WRAL-TV reports that school officials counter by saying that although black students do make up a disproportionate percentage of students who are suspended, approximately 90% of the black students in the district’s schools are never suspended. They continue by pointing out that 99% of African American students in the district were not referred to law enforcement in the 2014-2015, the first year this type of data was recorded.

The Tuesday meeting lasted two hours, and organizers of the forum told Andrea Blanford, reporting for WTVD-TV, to stop taping when parents and other interested parties began speaking.

Among those in the audience were Assistant Superintendent for Equity Affairs Dr. Rodney Trice and other Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) administrators. Trice said he was anxious to hear from parents and students their suggestions about how to change the racial incongruities in student discipline.

Several groups, such as Concerned Citizens for African American Children, the NAACP, the Education Justice Alliance, and the Youth Organizing Institute brought a federal complaint five years ago against the WCPSS for racial discrimination, reports Indy Week’s Jane Porter.

“All these numbers and statistics have stories behind them filled with you children’s pain and suffering, everyday discomfort and your children being excluded from school and not being given the same fair shake as every other student is entitled to receive,” said Tavon Bridges from the Youth Organizing Institute.