State Decision Could Impact Students Across the State
GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. – This week, the Georgia Board of Education (GBOE) ruled that a Gwinnett County student barred from school since mid-November was wrongly expelled after finding no evidence the student violated the district’s code of conduct handbook. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) represented the student in his appeal to reverse the local school board decision and correct his disciplinary records.
D.A., whose name is concealed due to his age, was expelled on November 15, 2019 from the International Transition Center in Lawrenceville, a program designed to educate Gwinnett County students who are English language learners, after a teacher reported D.A. made a verbal threat about her to another teacher. He had expressed earlier that he was upset because the teacher raised her voice at him and, he allegedly remarked that the teacher “doesn’t know who she is messing with.” The teacher who heard D.A.’s comment did not interpret it as threatening or mention it to the other teacher for more than a week.
In a five-page ruling, the GBOE reversed the decision by the Gwinnett County Board of Education, finding that there was no evidence that D.A. made a threat or intended to physically harm his teacher. D.A., who is Latinx, is one of thousands of students in Gwinnett County and school districts across the state who face exclusionary discipline each year, often for subjective and minor infractions. The decision will set a precedent for school disciplinary hearings in districts across the state.
“The lost instructional time that D.A. and other students experience when subjected to exclusionary discipline is unconscionable,” said Claire Sherburne, a staff attorney for the SPLC’s children’s rights practice group who represented D.A. in his appeal. “Oftentimes the infractions they are accused of are minor and subjective like in D.A.’s case and very few students have access to legal representation or advocacy. Students of color are disproportionately affected.”
Last year, nearly 10,000 students in Gwinnett County Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, were suspended or expelled from school at least once. While Black and Latinx students make up about 64 percent of the student population, they make up about 80 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 85 percent of expulsions. Suspensions and expulsions have been increasing over the last several years according to a report by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
“Gwinnett County Public Schools suspend and expel thousands of children each year,” said Mike Tafelski, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC’s children’s rights project. The district is devoting scarce public resources to keep up with the demands of this practice, at a time when budgets are getting slashed. It has even designated a building across the street from the Gwinnett County correctional complex to conduct suspension and expulsion hearings due to the large volume. Their intentions could not be clearer. At this rate, it seems the district is more interested in pushing children out of school and into the justice system than ensuring they have the resources they need to learn. This must change.”