The Oregon Department of Education has fined Portland Public Schools for over-disciplining African American special education students at a higher rate than other students. This punishment requires the district to use $1.5 million, which is 15% of its federal funding from Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) during the 2014-2015 school year and the 2015-2016 school year to resolve this issue.
Kelly House of The Oregonian reports that according to district spokesperson Christine Miles, the money is to be used to implement programs that will improve this pattern of disciplining special education students too severely and often.
Portland Public Schools has had a long-term issue with imbalanced discipline of minority young people. School districts nationwide have had this same issue take place, as The Oregonian previously reported.
Superintendent Carole Smith made oversight of the district's disciplinary practices one of her goals for the 2014-2015 school year. The state department sanctioned the district in 2011 for this same reason.
Smith has been given permission by the school board to use $4 million of a recently found $16.8 million windfall to pursue solutions to this problem, which is being called "exclusionary discipline" and two other goals for the year. Smith hasn't yet said how the money will be spent, but hinted that restorative justice programs could be a part of the solution.
The state department looked at 2012-2013 school year discipline figures and found that black PPS students in special education faced long-term suspension or expulsion five times more frequently than their peers. District-wide, 17% of black students were suspended or expelled in 2012-2013 compared to 4% of white students.
The Portland Parent Union has long argued against this practice. Sheila Warren, the groups head acknowledged that the district is taking steps to turn this around and are collaborating with her group to design in-school responses rather than banning kids from class.
"That's been a win for us, because we've been pushing the district on this for a few years" Warren said. Still, she called the sanction "just a Band-Aid" on a problem that can't be fixed with $1.5 million. Her group is planning a rally outside the district's North Portland offices next Tuesday in opposition of the district's discipline practices. We've still got a long way to go," she said.
Updates on the situation were published in an article for the Willamette Week by Beth Slovic. The first was that a letter from the department of education on Aug. 5, says the district will have to move $1.47 million from its $9.8 million IDEA fund to early intervention services that address the problem of exclusionary discipline. The second update was explaining that what the district called a financial sanction should not be considered a fine, and that Portland Public Schools will not lose any money since existing money from IDEA was going to be used.
"So we're going to be able to give behavioral support to all of our students, while we focus on being able to reduce the number of disciplines among our special education black students," said Miles.
KOIN-TV reported that Portland Public Schools Chief of Staff Amanda Whalen said the districts goal is to work with the school psychologist advisory group to create a plan to provide Coordinated Early Intervening Services (CEIS) in the schools they serve.