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Florida District Investigated Over Disparities in Student Discipline

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Yet another school district is being investigated over disparities in the discipline rates of students of different races.

News reports Wednesday said that the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights is investigating the 71,000-student Brevard County school district on Florida's east coast after four complaints were filed with the agency.

Florida Today reported that black students make up 15 percent of the student population in the district, but they accounted for 30 percent of suspensions. White students account for 66 percent of the population, but 52 percent of suspensions, the newspaper said.

Last month, the North Brevard chapter of the NAACP filed several complaints with the office for civil rights, and told the newspaper those were the prompts for the investigation.

"The data suggests there are some inequities," said North Brevard NAACP President Bill Gary, who filed the complaint, to Florida Today. "One infraction usually leads to another and another. ... There's a disturbing trend."

Brevard Superintendent Brian Binggeli told the newspaper that the district has been working to reduce suspension rates for all students, although a nearly 20-year-old report by the news outlet said 32 percent of suspensions districtwide were of black students in secondary schools, although they composed 14 percent of the student population.

Research across states and districts has shown that disparities in discipline rates are common—but not universal. But the problem is pervasive enough that schools should work on finding alternative ways of addressing student behavior problems.

In Brevard, the federal investigation will also look at the hiring and promotion of black teachers, and the closing of three schools with a high percentage of black students at the same time the district kept a predominantly white school open. All of these were part of the NAACP complaints.

Earlier this year, the civil rights office confirmed it is investigating the Seattle school district over discipline practices.

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.

Follow Rules for Engagement on Twitter @Rulz4Engagement and Education Week Staff Writer Nirvi Shah on Twitter @NirviShah.

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