The U.S. Department of Education is conducting an investigation into discrimination at Seattle Public Schools.
The investigation, which began in May, centers on disparate use of discipline against minority kids, according to a written statement from Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the federal agency. The aim of the investigation is to “assess whether the district discriminates against African American students by disciplining them more frequently and more harshly than similarly-situated white students,” he wrote. The agency does not discuss the details of ongoing investigations, he noted.
School District Superintendent Jose Banda said the school district is cooperating with the investigation, which he learned about within the past several weeks, althought it was initiated by the Department of Educaiton last May.
Banda said he thinks the federal “compliance review” will show disproportionate rates of discipline — common to big-city schools — and said “we will work with them to devise an action plan that addresses that.”
Stephanie Alter Jones, a parent and community organizer in Southeast Seattle, said that while she wasn’t aware of the investigation, discipline has been a topic of much debate lately.
“I think it’s getting some traction now,” she said, noting that the kinds of discipline that take kids out of school altogether, like suspension and expulsion, are being discussed in the legislature.
Part of the issue is that the kids who are tossed from the classroom are often “the ones most in need of the education,” she said, adding that taking away learning opportunities for those kids is problematic — but so is leaving disruptive kids in the classroom.
“Right now the focus is on how do we maximize learning for all kids,” she said. “If we want to do that we can’t have kids of color … out of school.”