Katie Tammen, NWF Daily News, August 7, 2012
The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a federal complaint against the Okaloosa County School District, alleging disciplinary discrimination toward black students.
The 22-page document asserts that in the 2010-11 school year, black students accounted for about 47 percent of all in- and out-of-school suspensions, although they made up only 12 percent of the school district’s population.
The civil rights organization filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights after more than a year of investigation.
“It started with complaints that we received from parents in the Panhandle. We were just hearing all these stories and we were like, ‘What? Not in this day and age,’ ” said Stephanie Langer, the staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Florida office. “We were surprised and shocked with what we found.”
After studying school districts across the state, the organization decided to file complaints against the Okaloosa, Bay, Escambia, Flagler and Suwannee County school districts. The first complaint was filed in February and concluded last month with accusations filed against Okaloosa County.
Investigations have been launched in Escambia and Suwannee counties based on the complaint, Langer said.
“I think we have enough evidence to file in all 67 districts in Florida,” she said. “What we found were these five counties were very representative of what was happening in the state.”