African-American students and students with disabilities in Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish Public Schools were disproportionately referred to alternative school, where they often languish for months or even years before returning to regular classes. These students often were referred to alternative schools for minor misconduct, such as disrespectful behavior, use of profanity, disrupting class and horseplay.
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in May 2012 on behalf of a group of students subjected to such treatment.
The complaint described how the district’s discipline and alternative school policies resulted in students with disabilities accounting for 52 percent of referrals to alternative schools, when they represent just 11 percent of the district’s student population. African-American students accounted for 78 percent of all alternative school referrals even though they made up 46 percent of the district’s student population.
It also described how the district’s policies result in these students being held at alternative schools for far longer than their peers due to a strict exit policy that required them to earn points for the opportunity to return to their regular school.
As a result, students with disabilities averaged 223.9 days in alternative school, compared to an average stay of 94.5 days for students without disabilities. African-American high school students had an average stay of 115.3 days, compared to 74.4 days for white high school students.
Once these students were at the alternative school, they were placed in front of a computer screen where they work through online courses – regardless of their ability or needs.
This was the second discrimination complaint the SPLC filed against the school district. A complaint was filed with the Office for Civil Rights in January 2012 citing racial disparities in school-based arrests.