07/03/2013

Alabama school district to reduce suspensions, promote alternatives in settlement with SPLC

The SPLC announced an agreement today with Mobile County Public Schools in Alabama to reduce out-of-school suspensions for minor misbehavior and provide alternative forms of discipline – steps that will resolve a 2011 federal lawsuit filed by the SPLC on behalf of seven students.

In addition to ending suspensions for minor infractions, such as uniform violations and excessive talking, the agreement will establish a formal training program on short- and long-term suspensions for school administrators and staff. It also includes measures to ensure due process for students facing possible out-of-school suspension.

The  lawsuit alleged the seven students were suspended for more than 10 days for minor infractions, such as un-tucked shirts and being late to class. Some students received suspensions of 40 days or more.

“This agreement will benefit many children in Mobile County for years to come,” said Jadine Johnson, SPLC staff attorney. “It reflects the school system’s commitment to promote alternatives to suspension that will keep schools safe. It also will keep students in school where they can learn and eventually graduate.”

As part of the agreement, the district will form a working group to develop a selection of research-based alternatives to school suspension. The group will include parents, students, teachers and other school officials. The agreement also revises the student code of conduct to create an easy-to-understand format for parents and students. 

The SPLC lawsuit also alleged that the school system violated the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which entitles students to notice and a fair hearing to defend themselves before a long-term suspension or expulsion is imposed. Long-term suspensions in Mobile County Public Schools range from 11 days until the end of the semester.

Other key provisions of the agreement include:

  • Establishing a process for parents to request that a school counselor serve as a liaison for parents and students during an initial long-term suspension hearing. 
  • Allowing students to stay in school pending an initial suspension hearing unless there is a compelling reason to send the student home.
  • Requiring the superintendent’s or her designee’s approval for any proposed suspension lasting longer than 20 school days.
  • Allowing students who are removed from school to receive homework assignments or make-up work.

The law firm WilmerHale served as co-counsel on the case.