Civil Rights Complaint Filed Against Bay District Schools - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Civil Rights Complaint Filed Against Bay District Schools

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Tuesday night the Bay County Rainbow PUSH Coalition held a back to school forum, talking about School Discipline and the Zero Tolerance Policy, policies that are now at the center of a civil rights complaint.

"The purpose of them is to raise awareness of an issue of which we found shocking which was the disparate impact that the disciplinary policies are having on African American student," says Stephanie Langer, a staff attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Florida.

The Southern Poverty Law Center announced Tuesday that is has filed the complaints in Escambia, Bay, Okaloosa, Flagler and Suwanee counties. In the Bay County complaint there are 13 complainants.

"What we found is it doesn't matter the kid. It doesn't matter how many times they've gone to the office or what for, what we found is for minor non-violent offenses, African-American students are disciplined more frequently, more harshly than white students or any other population from the community," says Langer.

Representatives from Bay District Schools say, however, they do not discriminate.

"Bay District Schools does not discriminate against anyone based on race, religion, ethnicity or anything else. We look at each child as an individual determine what is best and appropriate for that child," says Nancy Boyd with the Division of Teaching and Learning.

According to the statistics the SPLC gathered from the Florida Department of Education, in Bay County, African-American students account for 30 percent of all out-of-school suspensions even though they comprise 15 percent of the student population.

"If you look at being African-American or black in the Bay County school system, you have a 3 times chance of being disciplined with suspension or expulsion because of your actions," says Greg Dossie with the Bay County Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

But Bay District says the suspension statistics only reflect number of offenses.

"A child could have been disciplined a multiple times, but the way the data that they're looking at, each is being counted separately. When in actuality, it could be the same student with five different referrals," says Boyd.

The complaints have been filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.