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Feds look into discipline disparity allegations at Bibb Co. Public Schools

A former director of the special education program has filed a complaint against Bibb Co. Public Schools.
A former director of the special education program has filed a complaint against Bibb Co. Public Schools.
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On Thursday, August 14, the Macon Telegraph had reported that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is opening up a probe to see whether Bibb County Public Schools engaged in behavior that violates the rights of special education students. In essence, the claim is that African-American students were punished more often and more harshly in its alternative school program.

The complaint originated from the former director of the alternative school program Alisha Allen-Carter. The Office of Civil Rights will attempt to come to a conclusion on whether the following had happened in the Bibb County Public Schools' alternative school program:

• Failed to evaluate students to determine if they needed special education accommodations before placing them in an alternative school;

• Failed to provide aids and service to students with disabilities;

• Discriminates against black students on the basis of race in administering discipline;

• Complied with laws about proper procedural safeguards for parents seeking evaluations for their children;

• Failed to conduct “manifestation determination reviews” when placing students with disabilities in alternative schools.

According to the Bibb County School System's Code of Conduct for its Alternative School Program, ..."it is the policy of the State of Georgia (and of the Bibb County School District) that it is preferable to reassign disruptive students to alternative education settings rather than suspend or expel such students from school. This does not mean, however, that a disruptive student should be permitted to remain in the classroom. When the classroom is not the place for the student, other provisions will be made...."

A student who is enrolled in any special education program may not be removed for disciplinary reasons past ten (10) days without a manifestation determination review meeting in order to review the conduct in question prior to being taken to an evidentiary hearing.

Following a manifestation determination, students with a disability who commit serious offenses which could otherwise result in removal, suspension or expulsion may be brought before the Student Discipline Hearing Officer for a determination as
to whether the student is guilty of the offense charged.

Nationwide, there have been investigations which routinely turn up evidence of school districts invoking harsher punishments against minority students than their non-minority classmates, even when the behaviors being punished are identical.

The following is an excerpt from the New York Times:

In 2012, for instance, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights found that the Christina School District in Delaware had violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“Our investigation identified examples where African American students engaging in virtually identical behavior to white students were punished more harshly than white students (who had the same or worse disciplinary history),” the department wrote in a letter to the district. “A statistical analysis of all students referred for discipline for the first time, based on the District’s own records and categorizations, found that African Americans were at least twice as likely to receive a suspension … than white students for violations of similar severity. Moreover, African Americans experiencing their first referral were over three times more likely than white students to have the suspension be [out of school] rather than [in school]. For students whose first disciplinary referral was for Inappropriate Behavior, African American students were nearly seven times more likely to receive [an out-of-school suspension] than white students.”

The investigation also revealed that the district allowed administrators to apply penalties in excess of the provisions outlined in the Student Code of Conduct, and that the imposition of higher penalties fell disproportionately on African-American students. And: “at every school level, and in every year examined, the disparities in disciplinary referrals between African American students and white students were statistically significant. “

Allen-Carter explained to the Telegraph that she filed the complaint because during her tenure as the Director of the Bibb County Public School's alternative school program, she did not have adequate staffing or the resources to provide the needed care for special needs students that were placed in alternative schools. She said many of the students came with outdated “individual education plans,” which are required for special needs students.