KUOW has learned that the U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into discipline rates in Seattle Public Schools. In an email, agency spokesman Jim Bradshaw told KUOW that its Office for Civil Rights is looking into whether black students in Seattle are disciplined "more frequently and more harshly" than white students for the same infractions.
The school district's annual data profile depicts dramatic differences in the number of suspensions and expulsions white students receive compared to black and Native American students. Over the past decade, the percentage of elementary school students who get at least one short-term suspension a year has held steady for white students, but nearly tripled for black students. "I don't know specifically why," said Bernardo Ruiz, Director of School and Family Partnerships and Equity and Race Relations for Seattle Public Schools. "If we knew why, we would have addressed it."
Ruiz said the district had already been looking into the disproportionate discipline rates for students of color, and is cooperating with the federal investigation. "We're very, very concerned that our kids of color are being suspended at higher rates than other kids, and it's an issue that we want to proactively address," Ruiz said.
Ruiz said the Office for Civil Rights has asked the district for detailed, school-by-school data on who is getting in trouble for what, and how they're punished.