Federal education officials to monitor Durham Public Schools after discipline complaint

The complaint alleged black students and students with disabilities were suspended more frequently than their peers.

Posted Updated
Kelly Hinchcliffe
, WRAL education reporter
DURHAM, N.C. — Federal education officials will monitor Durham Public Schools as part of the resolution to a 2013 complaint about the school district's discipline practices.
The complaint, filed by Legal Aid of North Carolina and the Civil Rights Project of UCLA, alleged black students and students with disabilities in Durham schools were suspended more frequently than their peers, in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws.

As part of the agreement, Durham Public Schools will be monitored through at least September 2019 and is required to take the following action in the coming year:

  • Appoint a discipline supervisor to oversee discipline practices across the district
  • Develop a discipline action plan to ensure discipline referrals and consequences are appropriately and equitably applied regardless of race or disability status
  • Review and revise current student discipline policies with input from the Office of Civil Rights
  • Ensure robust data collection and self-monitoring
  • Provide ongoing training to district staff regarding fair and equitable imposition of discipline
  • Improve guidelines and data collection for school police
  • Engage community stakeholders in the process
  • Review alternative school placement procedures

In a statement Thursday, Durham Public Schools Superintendent Pascal Mubenga said the district "is pleased to have entered into a resolution agreement with the Office of Civil Rights. OCR has noted the positive steps we have made to date, including our community task force’s revision of our Code of Student Conduct and the creation of our Office of Equity Affairs. As superintendent I am focused on academic success and excellent schools for every student. We are happy to comply with the resolution agreement to foster equity in academic achievement and fair disciplinary practices."

In response to the investigation and community pressure to decrease suspensions and address disparities, DPS has already taken some steps to combat discrimination in the district, according to Legal Aid of NC. The district has hired an equity director and asked the community for help to review and revise its discipline policies.

"However, despite those efforts, the district saw a spike in the use of suspension last school year, and parents continue to report that their children face discrimination in Durham Public Schools," according to Legal Aid of NC.

"For years, we have seen DPS push black students and students with disabilities out of school and into the court system at much higher rates than their white and non-disabled classmates," Aisha Forte, an attorney for Legal Aid of NC, said in a statement. "In addition to being unlawful, these exclusionary discipline practices harm individual students and the overall school community. We hope that this resolution agreement will stop the flow of children into Durham's school-to-prison pipeline and bring about meaningful and lasting change in the district."

Tajuana Parker was one of several parents who shared stories of discrimination with the Office of Civil Rights during its investigation. In a statement provided by Legal Aid of NC, Parker said she wants to trust "that his teachers and administrators will support and fight for him like they would any student. However, instead of pushing my son to reach his potential, it too often feels like they are spending their time and energy finding ways to push him out of school."

Jovonia Lewis, a DPS parent and member of the Education Committee of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, said in a statement that she is "glad the district is acknowledging this problem and open to taking action."

"However, if DPS truly wants to make things better for black and brown children, it will be important to ensure that students and parents of color have a meaningful voice at the table," she said. "We are eager to work with the district to bring about the systemic changes needed to make DPS a place where all children can learn and thrive."


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