The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi today approved a landmark consent decree filed by the Justice Department, together with private plaintiffs and the Meridian Public School District in Meridian, Miss., to prevent and address racial discrimination in student discipline. The consent decree is a far-reaching plan to reform discipline practices, including suspensions, expulsions and school-based arrests that unlawfully channel black students out of their classrooms and, too often, into the criminal justice system.
“The consent decree approved by the court today will propel meaningful reform in Meridian schools and serve as a blueprint for school districts across the country,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We commend the Meridian Public School District for its commitment to keeping its students in safe and inclusive classrooms, and out of the school-to-prison pipeline.”
The consent decree amends a longstanding federal school desegregation decree enforced by the United States, which prohibits the district from discriminating against students based on race.
The district has already started to take action to implement the consent decree, which requires it to:
• Limit discipline that removes students from classrooms, such as suspensions, expulsions and alternative placement, as well as end exclusionary consequences for minor misbehavior;
• Expand use of a proven behavior management approach known as positive behavior intervention and supports and train teachers and administrators so they have the tools necessary to safely and effectively manage their classrooms and schools;
• Prevent school officials from involving law enforcement officers when a student’s behavior can be safely and appropriately handled under school disciplinary procedures;
• Provide training for school law enforcement officers on bias-free policing, child and adolescent development and age appropriate responses, practices proven to improve school climate, mentoring and working with school administrators;
• Create clear entry and exit criteria at the alternative school and provide support to facilitate students’ transitions back to their home schools;
• Enhance due process protections in student discipline hearings;
• Monitor discipline data to identify and respond to racial disparities; and
• Engage families and communities as partners in revising policies and through regular school and community forums.
“This consent decree is a major stride toward equal justice and equal opportunity for all students in Meridian,” said Gregory K. Davis, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. “The court’s order is a powerful reminder to schools that they may not discriminate against students on the basis of race or another protected status in administering discipline.”
The department filed a related case against the Meridian Police Department, the Lauderdale County Youth Court and the State of Mississippi in October 2012, alleging that those defendants systematically violate the due process rights of students referred by the district. That case remains pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.
The enforcement of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, among other bases, in public schools is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.