Settlement reached to end racially discriminatory school discipline

Agreement could abolish suspensions


ORLANDO, Fla. – A plan to eliminate racial disparities in school discipline was adopted by the Flagler County School Board resolving a federal civil rights complaint the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed three years ago.

Under the settlement agreement, district approval will be required for suspension of five or more days this upcoming school year, and for three or more days in the next school year.

The district is also considering abolishing suspensions once an alternative school program is created. 

As a result of the agreement, the SPLC will withdraw the complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights in 2012.  The complaint described discriminatory policies that resulted in African-American students accounting for 31 percent of all out-of-school suspensions during the 2010-11 school year even though they were only 16 percent of the student population.

"This is a great day for students and families in Flagler County," said Amir Whitaker, SPLC staff attorney. "The Flagler County School Board has demonstrated with this agreement that it is committed to ensuring that no student is needlessly pushed out of school. We are excited to work with the schools and the district to introduce these new policies and improve education for Flagler's 13,000 students."

Alternatives to suspension and other harsh punishments are being encouraged including peer mediation and an innovative restorative justice program. An existing committee will monitor discipline data and make recommendations to the district.

"Flagler County School District strives to be the premier learning organization," said Kristy Gavin, school board attorney. "Through our collaboration with the Southern Poverty Law Center, the changes that will be implemented will help the district in reaching this goal. Through outreach to community partners, like the Southern Poverty Law Center, we will continue to move in a positive direction to ensure a safe learning environment empowering students to reach their full potential in Flagler County, Florida."

Other provisions of the agreement include continuation of the schools providing informational programs about the district's code of conduct and discipline to all student and making regular discipline reports available to the community.  School personnel will also receive cultural competency and implicit bias training.

The SPLC is still pursuing federal civil rights complaints in Escambia, Bay, Okaloosa and Suwannee county school districts.