A 13-year-old African-American student, who has emotional disabilities, walked out of a classroom in April to search for his teacher. A security guard confronted the boy, identified by his initials J.R. in a complaint. The guard claimed that J.R. balled his fist (which the student denied), so he constrained him until Richmond, Virginia. police officers arrived and handcuffed J.R.
During the encounter, the guard pressed on the student’s leg, which was recovering from recent surgery. J.R. also needed medical treatment for facial injuries.
He was suspended from Thomas C. Boushall Middle School, without educational services, for 13 days. Ultimately, his suspension was overturned on appeal.
The Legal Aid Justice Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against Richmond Virginia Public Schools, on behalf of J.R. and another African-American student (identified by his initials A.L.) with Asperger’s Syndrome and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder who was suspended from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Richmond. The Richmond Chapter of the NAACP joined the students in the complaint.
According to the civil rights complaint, the Richmond school district is bias against Black students in how it enforces discipline.
The complaint compiles data that shows the school district suspends Black students at a rate more than five times higher than it suspends White students. Moreover, Black students with disabilities face short-term suspensions at 13 times the rate of White students without disabilities.
“These disparities cannot be explained by differences in student behavior,” said Rachael Deane, an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center. “Rather, there is overwhelming evidence that the school division’s discipline policies are excessively punitive and lack clear standards for application, leading to subjective interpretation and selective enforcement.”
The organizations want the school district, which had the state’s highest dropout rate in 2014-15 and low test scores, to reform its student conduct code and disciplinary practices.
“The school division must conduct an unflinching examination of these disparities and adopt strategies to improve school climate and ensure that discipline policies are fair for all students,” said Lynetta Thompson, president of the Richmond NAACP.
Richmond Public Schools said it has started reforms and looks forward to cooperating with the Education Department, according to the Washington Post.
“Our goal is to find disciplinary measures that balance safety and instruction, so we welcome any dialogue that promotes both equity and quality in the education of our students,” said school district spokeswoman Kenita Bowers, The Post reported.
Going forward, the complaint urges the school district to implement positive behavior interventions and to take into account a student’s disabilities when considering punishment.