OKC School District Reaches Deal to Address Discipline Disparities

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The U.S. Department of Education on Wednesday announced a final agreement with Oklahoma City Public Schools on reforms to address racial disparities in discipline.

A letter, dated April 19 and addressed to Superintendent Rob Neu, reveals previously unknown details of the complaint and steps the school district must now take to rectify the disparities.

Specifically, the complaint, filed in 2014 by a parent, accused the school district of racial harassment after administrators refused to allow her son to return to school following five days of a 10-day suspension. She also accused the district of retaliating against her by inviting her to a meeting, then having her arrested by a school resource officer on unrelated outstanding warrants. She complained that Hispanic students faced unfair discipline when compared to white students.

Neither the students nor the school they attended were identified. Investigators noted the students withdrew from the school district in August 2014.

Investigators found black students were overrepresented in all forms of discipline, including law enforcement referrals, in-school suspensions and out-of-school suspensions. Hispanic and white students were disciplined at much lower rates.

After conducting its own audit, the district asked to resolve the complaint before the U.S. Office of Civil Rights concluded its investigation.

As part of the agreement, the district has to review its school resource officer program, review and revise its discipline policies and procedures, designate a district discipline supervisor and establish a student committee at each middle and high school to make recommendations for equitable treatment of students.

The district has already addressed some requirements in the agreement. Among the change: It created the Office of School Climate and Student Discipline and hired a director of school climate and student discipline and three student behavior specialists.

Mark Myers, a spokesman for the Oklahoma City school district, said it’s premature to speculate how much the reforms will cost.

“When our plan is finalized, we will have a better grasp of what those costs will be,” he said.

Oklahoma City is not the only school district where racial disparities exist in school suspensions, Oklahoma Watch found in this 2015 story.

There are two ongoing Office of Civil Rights investigations into the Oklahoma City district involving complaints the district failed to provide male and female students equal access to athletic activities and discriminated against students with disabilities.