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N.C. District Under Investigation for Discipline Practices

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Potentially discriminatory discipline practices in Durham, N.C., schools are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights.

A formal investigation was opened earlier this month, following a complaint in April filed by groups including Advocates for Children's Services and the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project of the University of California, Los Angeles.

The groups say the 33,000-student district suspends black students at more than four times the rate of white students, and that the trend is growing: Suspension rates in Durham schools grew by about a third over the last two years.

The district's "discriminatory discipline practices, whether intentional or not, have devastating effects on students, families, and our entire community," said Peggy Nicholson, a lawyer with Advocates for Children's Services. "This needs to be fully investigated so that Durham can begin to develop a systemic solution that adequately addresses this discrimination and reduces the use of harmful and unnecessary suspensions."

In recent years, a growing number of school districts' discipline policies have been challenged, either by the office for civil rights, by lawsuits, or in a less formal manner, all on similar grounds. And many are changing those policies as a result. The National School Boards Association recently labeled the way many districts use out-of-school suspensions a crisis.

And recently, the National Association of State Boards of Education gave three states—Georgia, Michigan, and West Virginia—grants to revise and implement new statewide student discipline policies that limit the use of out-of-school punishments.

The three states all want to lower the number of out-of-school suspensions and referrals of students to law enforcement in their states and were already working on the issue to an extent. The grants will push that work forward.

Georgia's school discipline task force is examining data to determine the effectiveness of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Michigan is working on an online resource to prompt implementation of the state board's model policy on alternatives to suspensions and expulsions in schools. And West Virginia's task force on student discipline is working on statewide and county-level reports of disciplinary incidents and using the findings to improve school discipline practices.

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

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