Department of Education to close discrimination case against WCPSS if district implements change

Posted November 20, 2018 6:12 p.m. EST
Updated November 20, 2018 8:59 p.m. EST

Wake County Public School System

An agreement between the Wake County Board of Education and U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has resolved a complaint alleging the district discriminates against black students in disciplinary matters.

The complaint, filed in 2010, alleged that black students are suspended from Wake County schools at rates that far outpace their percentage of the total student population.

Wake County schools spokeswoman Lisa Luten said in a statement Tuesday that the Office for Civil Rights was unable to find evidence that the district violated any laws with their discipline policies.

The case will be permanently closed in 2021 if the Wake County Public School System continues to implement current measures and take additional steps to address possible causes of disparities in student discipline.

“We are pleased to reach an agreement with the Office of Civil Rights in these areas and look forward to continued improvement in suspensions rates,” said school board Chair Monika Johnston-Hostler. “We are grateful OCR recognized the work already underway and the district’s efforts to ensure future progress.”

According to statistics released in March, African-Americans represent less than a quarter of the Wake County Public School System population, but account for almost two-thirds of suspensions.

Statistics show that 61 percent of elementary school students suspended were black children in the 4th or 5th grade.

In recent years, Wake County school leaders have created an Office of Equity Affairs and undergone multiple revisions to discipline policies to reduce suspensions, school officials said.

"I can speak personally about the way we have implemented circles and restorative practices. We've seen more of our schools using positive behaviors and so, while I'm not sure how many other school districts have really laid the ground work that we have, we've taken every bit of research and our staff has really worked hard to implement those in our district and I think that's the outcome of the resolution," Johnston-Hostler said.

The agreement announced Tuesday requires Wake County school leaders to make additional changes during the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years that include:

  • Revisions to disciplinary rules in the student code of conduct to make them clearer and “less susceptible to implicit bias”
  • Provision of ongoing and supplemental staff training on issues related to fair and equitable discipline
  • Annual self-evaluations of the effectiveness of the district’s effort to ensure non-discriminatory discipline practices

If the steps are taken, the Office of Civil Rights will close its investigation in February 2021.