Feds alleged that black students faced stiffer punishment than white students for similar offenses
The U.S. Justice Department said Friday that it has reached a deal
with a Mississippi school district to end discriminatory disciplinary
practices in which black students face harsher punishment than whites
for similar misbehavior.
comes after a lengthy federal investigation that found that black public
school students in Meridian are five times more likely than whites to
be suspended from classes and often got longer suspensions for
Samuels, a deputy assistant attorney general, said during a news
conference Friday that black students in the Meridian Public School
District routinely receive more severe punishments than whites in most
categories of misbehavior other than weapons and drugs violations. She
commended the district for its cooperation with the Justice Department.
86 percent of Meridian’s 6,000 public school students are black. The
district’s superintendent, Alvin Taylor, is black and there is a mixture
of white and black principals, Samuels said.
Taylor did not immediately respond to a message Friday.
stressed that disciplinary problems and disparities are not unique to
the city of Meridian or Mississippi and she hopes the agreement can be a
guide to other school districts. Similar problems are most likely to
happen at schools that have implemented harsh disciplinary policies, she
today across the country, students are being pulled off the path to
success by harsh disciplinary policies that are excluding students from
school for minor disciplinary infractions,” she said. “Students are
being suspended, expelled or even arrested for school uniform
violations, talking back to teachers or laughing in class.”
agreement, known as a consent decree, calls for the district to end
discriminatory punishment practices with the provisions that should be
fully implemented by the end of the 2016-2017 school year.
agreement must be approved by a federal judge in Mississippi. Among the
provisions in the 44-page agreement, the school would have to limit the
use of disciplinary action that removes students from classrooms and
ensure that consequences are fair and consistent for all students.
The agreement would amend a consent decree enforced by the U.S. as part of 1965 desegregation lawsuit against the district.
said there about 200 similar longstanding lawsuits involving districts
around the country and the Justice Department reviews their disciplinary
policies and practices.
agreement is separate from a Justice Department lawsuit against the
city of Meridian, Lauderdale County, the two Lauderdale County Youth
Court judges and the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
lawsuit, which is pending in U.S. District Court in Jackson, alleges
that there was “school-to-prison pipeline” in Meridian that locks up
students for minor infractions like flatulence or wearing the wrong
lawsuit claims Meridian police routinely arrested students without
determining whether there was probable cause when a school wanted to
press charges, and the students were routinely jailed.
arrested, the students end up on probation, sometimes without proper
legal representation, according to the lawsuit. If the students are on
probation, future school problems could be considered a violation that
requires them to serve the suspension incarcerated in the juvenile
means students can be incarcerated for “dress code infractions such as
wearing the wrong color socks or undershirt, or for having shirts
untucked; tardies; flatulence in class; using vulgar language; yelling
at teachers; and going to the bathroom or leaving the classroom without
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