Tupelo schools, feds OK disciplinary agreement



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TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — The Tupelo Public School District and the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights have reached an agreement over discrimination in the district's disciplinary system, officials said Thursday.

OCR investigated the school district for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years finding that black students, who made up nearly half of the student enrollment, had been disproportionately subjected to discipline at every stage in the discipline process. In addition, the district implemented its policies in ways that black students received harsher discipline than white students for similar offenses, the department said in a news release.

WTVA-TV reports (http://bit.ly/1usVriG ) OCR's investigation found that black students made up 81 percent and 78 percent of the disciplinary referrals within the two years examined. They were also 77 percent of the in-school suspensions and received 80 percent or more of exclusionary discipline sanctions and assignments to the local juvenile detention center, the department said.

The investigation was part of a nationwide performance review.

"I commend Tupelo Public School District for making this commitment to ensuring equity in the administration of school discipline, and I am so pleased that the nearly 8,000 students in one of Mississippi's largest school districts can now expect safe and fundamentally fair treatment in their schools," Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights, said in a news release. "We look forward to working with the district to implement this agreement."

Under the agreement, the district commits to "take specific actions to ensure that it implements fair and equitable discipline policies and practices that lead to less frequent exclusionary discipline and increased educational opportunities for all students."

Specifically, the district has agreed to take a number of corrective measures including:

— Ensuring that misbehavior is addressed in a manner that does not require removal from school.

— Collaborating with experts on research-based strategies designed to prevent discrimination in the implementation of school discipline.

— Reviewing and revising the disciplinary policies, and implementing disciplinary practices that will effectively promote the fair and equitable administration of discipline.

— Providing training for staff and administrators on the disciplinary policies, and implementing programs for students and parents and guardians that will explain the policies and behavioral expectations.

— Requiring school staff to employ corrective measures before referring a student to disciplinary authorities.

OCR also will closely monitor implementation of the agreement.

School officials could not be reached for comment after hours Thursday.

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Information from: WTVA-TV, http://www.wtva.com

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The Associated Press

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