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OCR Announces Investigation of Discrimination Against Black Students in Pinellas County

Washington – Yesterday, the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights openedan investigation into whether Pinellas County School District in Florida is systematically discriminating against Black Students. Advancement Project and its community partner, the Dream Defenders, released the following statement:

“We encourage the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to complete a thorough compliance review and reach a resolution agreement with Pinellas County Schools quickly, but with deliberate community input,” said Advancement Project Co-Direct Judith Browne Dianis. “An effective resolution agreement requires the voices of Black students and parents who have historically been sidelined from the policymaking impacting their own community and families.”

Many Pinellas schools put Black students on a road to nowhere, failing to provide them with the support needed to succeed in the classroom. Worse, after failing to educate them, Pinellas schools have systematically criminalized Black students. Though they comprise less than 20 percent of students in the Pinellas County schools, Black students make up 37 percent of in-school suspensions, 49 percent of out-of-schools suspensions and 59 percent of school arrests. The more severe the punishments, the worse the outcome for Black students.

“Black students in Pinellas schools are in crisis, starved for the resources that make a quality education possible, but targeted by discipline policies and police practices that funnel them out of schools and into the criminal justice system,” said Ashley Green, a community organizer with the Bay Area Dream Defenders, located in Pinellas County.

“Any agreement between OCR and Pinellas County Schools must ensure that the District reformulate its disciplinary policies and procedures regarding school police, and involve robust training of Pinellas teachers and officials in anti-racism and progressive forms of community building and violence prevention, such as restorative practices,” said Thomas Mariadason, Staff Attorney in Advancement Project’s Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track Program.

“Every day that goes by is a day in which another Black student risks being criminalized and pushed out by Pinellas County Schools,” said Chardonnay Singleton, another organizer with the Bay Area Dream Defenders. “While it is encouraging to see the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights give this step forward, the urgency at hand cannot be stressed enough. We must put an end to the abuse against Black children in Pinellas immediately.”

To speak with a member of the Dream Defenders or the Advancement Project about the OCR investigation or the work being done in Pinellas County around the school-to-prison pipeline, please contact Chelsea Fuller, cfuller@advancementproject.org

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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.

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