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Seattle District Probed by Feds Over Discipline of Black Students

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Yet another school district is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights because of concerns over the way African-American students are disciplined.

The Seattle Times reports today that the OCR is investigating whether black students in Seattle schools are disciplined "more frequently and more harshly than similarly situated white students."

In 2010, the Obama administration pledged to address the "disparate impact" of school discipline policies. Last year, the first of those inquiries was resolved when the office for civil rights required a number of changes in the Oakland, Calif., school district because of inequities in how black and white students in the district have been punished. Also last year, OCR ordered a Delaware district to address similar problems.

The Times reports that school administrators and parents have been aware of, and troubled by, the differences in discipline rates in the 50,000-student district for years: African-American students are suspended from school more than three times as often as white students; more than a quarter of black middle school students have received short-term suspensions every year since 1996. And Native Americans are disciplined more often than Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Superintendent José Banda told the newspaper that he intends to address discipline disparities in the district and he is cooperating with the OCR.

"I think we have a serious problem here," said Banda, who became superintendent last May, at about the time the OCR investigation began. "We do. We acknowledge that. We acknowledge the fact that the data are clear that there is a disproportionate number of students of color being suspended and expelled. It's something that we're moving on, in addition to working with the Department of Education, who are conducting their own review."

Already, the Seattle district has set up two advisory committees, one on Positive Climate and Discipline and another on Equity and Race, to look at disproportionality in discipline.

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