AUSTIN — The U.S. Department of Education has confirmed it will investigate a complaint from Texas Appleseed and the Brazos County NAACP challenging the “disparate impact” that Bryan school district’s practice of issuing criminal citations for minor misbehavior has on African-American students, who are ticketed at four times the rate of their peers.
The Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced its intent to launch a formal investigation in a letter to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and the National Center for Youth Law, who filed the complaint February 20, 2013, on behalf of the Texas advocacy groups. The Bryan Independent School District (ISD) was also notified.
“We are pleased that OCR is pursuing this important issue and look forward to working with the Department of Education and the Bryan school district to find more positive approaches to improving student behavior and keeping more children in class and out of the court system,” said Texas Appleseed Deputy Director Deborah Fowler.
“This investigation sends a strong message to school districts around the country that the government takes seriously allegations that police are criminalizing children in school instead of keeping them safe,” said Rachel Kleinman, Assistant Counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (a separate entity from the NAACP).
Ann Boney, President of the Brazos County NAACP, said, “We are pleased that we will move forward with this issue and begin developing a positive approach that will benefit all concerned parties.”
African-American students comprised only 21% of the Bryan district’s student population in 2011-12, but received 53% of all tickets issued last year for Disruption of Class and 51% for Disorderly Conduct-Language (profanity). While the Texas lawmakers passed legislation this spring ending school-based ticketing in most cases, school districts can still file formal complaints and send students to court for the same types of minor misbehavior.
“In a very real sense, districts like Bryan are using law enforcement as a disciplinary tool, leading students into the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Senior Attorney Michael Harris, with the National Center for Youth Law. “But research shows these matters are far better handled by educators and parents.”
The Complainants are asking OCR to require Bryan ISD to provide additional training for school police officers in adolescent behavior, conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques. They are strongly encouraging implementation of nationally-tested programs shown to reduce disciplinary problems and boost academics—such as School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. The Complaint also proposes:
- Revisions to the Bryan Student Code of Conduct to establish graduated consequences for misbehavior that minimize missed class time and reserve suspension, expulsion, and police responses to student misbehavior to only those incidents that pose a safety risk;
- Required campus-based quarterly reporting of data on ticketing and school-related arrests, by type of incident disaggregated by race; and
- Intervention services for students who receive multiple Class C citations and/or disciplinary referrals and who are at risk of educational failure.