MS Parents Urge Federal Intervention in County Schools due to Persistent Racial Discrimination
New Letter to U.S. Department of Education Documents Egregious Discipline Disparities
DESOTO COUNTY, Miss. – Today, DeSoto County Parents and Students for Justice (DCPSJ) along with Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights organization, filed a new supporting letter documenting the continuation of discriminatory discipline practices in DeSoto County Schools (DCS). The letter, submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, comes months after the Department opened a formal investigation in response to the complaint filed on behalf of students and parents in 2015.
“The lack of action by DCS in correcting discipline disparities shows that it neither sees nor understands the crisis occurring in our schools,” said James Mathis, Chairperson of DeSoto County Parents and Students for Justice. “The district continues to suspend, expel, and arrest Black students and students with disabilities at disproportionate rates, fueling a deadly school to prison pipeline that robs our children and grandchildren of a quality education. Since our initial complaint, these disparities have only grown worse and that’s why we need federal intervention.”
New data released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reveals that from 2012 to 2014, the suspension rate of Black students increased from 55% to 59%, despite the fact that overall suspensions in the district declined. During the 2013-2014 school year, Black students made up 33% of the student population, but were 59% of all students suspended. The supplemental letter, containing new stories from students and families, urges the U.S. Department of Education to:
- Require DCS to select a student and parent advocate or ombudsman
- Require all DCS staff to complete anti-racism and implicit bias training
- Require DCS to hire a consultant to reduce suspensions and discipline disparities
- Require DCS to regularly collect and analyze data to determine the breadth of discriminatory policies and practices and general harassment
“Why should Black parents have to teach their children how to respond to repeated racial slurs from students, hostile staff, and unfair punishment from the district?” said Paris Marion, a DeSoto County Parent. “Parents are literally sending our kids to live with relatives in other states because our children have been so deeply traumatized by their experiences in DCS. It’s absolutely wrong and the steps the district has taken are completely inadequate.”
DeSoto County Schools revised the district’s student code of discipline for the 2016-2017 school year. The revision came after DCPSJ and Advancement Project filed a federal Title VI complaint showing a districtwide pattern of more harshly disciplining Black students, particularly Black students with disabilities, for less severe offenses than White students. U.S. Department of Education officials conducted a site visit in DeSoto County in December 2015.
Despite new revisions, the code fails to clearly define subjective infractions like “insubordination” and contains new, highly-problematic provisions that allow schools to suspend students for minor code violations.
“The revised code continues to be grounded in exclusionary, overly punitive policies that fail to address the systemic racism that prompted DeSoto County families to file a federal complaint in the first place,” said Jadine Johnson, Staff Attorney at Advancement Project. “We need federal intervention and oversight to ensure students and families are treated fairly and with dignity.”
Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.