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Delaware District Agrees to Address Disparate Discipline Practices

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A Delaware school district has agreed to make sweeping changes to how students are disciplined because of concerns that black students were being punished more harshly and more frequently because of their race.

The U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights said Tuesday that it has resolved issues that arose in an investigation of the 17,000-student Christina, Del., school district.

A statistical analysis found that African-American students who engaged in behavior similar to white students were punished more harshly than white students who had the same or worse disciplinary history, a letter to Superintendent Freeman Williams says. Black students were at least twice as likely as while students to receive a suspension in or out of school than white students for rule-breaking offenses of the same level of severity. And on their first discipline referral, black students were three times more likely to be suspended out of school rather than in school.

The trends in the Christina district mimic those found in districts all over the country. The agreement with the Christina district comes just two months after a prescriptive set of changes to school discipline policies and practices was ordered in Oakland, Calif., schools.

The Delaware agreement "will go a long way toward preventing any further discrimination in the implementation of discipline," said Seth Galanter, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights.

Among other actions outlined in the agreement, the district must:

  • Ensure to the maximum extent possible that misbehavior is addressed in a manner that does not require removal from school;

  • Collaborate with experts on research-based strategies designed to prevent discrimination in the implementation of school discipline;

  • Provide students who engage in disruptive behaviors with support services designed to decrease behavioral difficulties;

  • Review and revise existing disciplinary policies, and implement those that will effectively promote equity in discipline;

  • Provide training for staff and administrators on disciplinary policies, and implement programs for students, parents and guardians that will explain the district's disciplinary policies and behavioral expectations;

  • Effectively address school climate issues; and

  • Improve the disciplinary data-collection system in order to evaluate discipline policies and practices.

Here you can read the complete agreement detailing the investigation and the district's plans to correct areas the office for civil rights took issue with.

Education Week recently produced a series of stories about alternatives to out-of-school suspension and expulsion.

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