NAACP complaint claims racial bias in student discipline at Anne Arundel schools

Anne Arundel County schools have not made sufficient progress in eliminating racial bias from its student disciplinary practices, according to a civil rights complaint filed by the NAACP.

The complaint, filed with the civil rights office of the U.S. Department of Education on Friday, alleges that the numbers of African-American students referred for discipline and suspended have hardly changed since a similar complaint in 2004. That complaint led to an improvement plan agreed to in 2005 by the NAACP and the school system.

"Six years later, however, there has been no marked improvement in the disparate treatment of African-American students in disciplinary actions, which continues a pattern of denial and limitation of their educational opportunities and thus their future sustainability," the new complaint reads.

"We want to know why it hasn't gotten better and what's being done," said Jacqueline Boone Allsup, president of the county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Bob Mosier, a spokesman for the school system, said, "Our progress at closing the gaps has been slower than we would have liked and slower than the community would have liked. But this is a societal issue, and we are devoting considerable energy to it."

Mosier said he found it "disconcerting" that the complaint was aired publicly before a meeting scheduled Tuesday between Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell and leaders of the county's African-American community.

Mosier said Maxwell scheduled the meeting when he became aware of community concerns about the discipline numbers. But he said the superintendent was not aware the formal complaint was coming. Mosier said the nature of the release "flies in the face of the collaborative dialogue that has always been a part of this process."

Despite that, Allsup said, she's hopeful about the Tuesday discussion.

"I'm optimistic that he'll be receptive," she said of Maxwell. "I'm sure he wants to see the gap close as much as we do."

The NAACP president said she hopes a renewed plan of action will come out of the complaint. "I hope that we can all come to the table," she said. "We can come together to look at the problem and come up with strategies to produce solutions."

The letter also alleges that the NAACP has received a spate of recent complaints from African-American teachers claiming racial discrimination in discipline, professional evaluation and promotion.

In its letter, the NAACP calls on the school system to require cultural proficiency training for teachers and administrators who frequently recommend discipline for African-American students on "soft" offenses. It says such teachers and administrators should face sanctions if they don't improve.

The NAACP further asks the school system to develop behavioral and academic plans for frequently disciplined African-American students. It says the system should arrange for a third party to examine potential racial bias in teacher evaluation and promotion.

The NAACP complaint says that African-Americans accounted for 36.8 percent of students referred for discipline in the 2004-2005 school year and that the figure rose to 38.1 percent by 2008-2009. It says that African-American students accounted for 42.1 percent of suspensions in 2004-2005 and 41.6 percent in 2008-2009.

African-Americans made up 20.7 percent of the student population for the 2010-2011 school year, consistent with the representation since 2004.

Mosier noted that expulsions of African-American students dropped from 211 in 2005-2006 to eight in 2008-2009. But the NAACP complaint says such students are instead hit with long-term suspensions and "warehoused" in alternative programs that don't address their problems.

"I would disagree that those students don't receive appropriate services," Mosier said.

The complaint also says Anne Arundel County's government is complicit in the problem. A spokesman for County Executive John R. Leopold said he had no comment.

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