African-American students in several Florida school districts were subjected harsh disciplinary policies at a far higher rate than their white classmates. These students were often subjected to long-term suspensions, expulsions and even arrested at school for relatively minor misconduct.
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a series of civil rights complaints with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on behalf of a class of students subjected to such treatment.
The complaints described how African-American students in Escambia, Bay, Okaloosa, Flagler and Suwannee county school districts were suspended, expelled and arrested at school for minor and non-violent conduct, such as disrespectful behavior, use of profanity, disrupting class and horseplay.
The school districts’ own annual reports to the Florida Department of Education demonstrated the discriminatory impact of their disciplinary policies:
- Escambia County: Nearly 20 percent of African-American students received at least one out-of-school suspension, compared to less than 6 percent of white students.
- Okaloosa County: 50 percent of school arrests involved African-American students, even though they make up just 12 percent of the school population. African-American students were 6.4 times more likely to be arrested at school than white students.
- Bay County: 21 percent of African-American students received at least one out-of-school suspension, compared to only 9 percent of white students.
- Suwannee County: African-American students are generally disciplined twice as often as white students, but female African American students receive out-of-school suspensions almost five times more often than their white female classmates.
- Flagler County: African-American students account for 70 percent of expulsions, even though they represent only 16 percent of the student population.
The complaints also described how the school districts failed to provide school principals with specific disciplinary guidelines and procedures, which granted principals the power to remove students from school for vague and often minor rule infractions.
The SPLC asked the U.S. Department of Education to investigate the students' claims, compel the districts to overhaul their disciplinary practices, and ensure that African-American students are not unfairly targeted for lengthy suspensions, expulsions or arrests.