Compelled by the U.S. Justice Department, a Mississippi school district has agreed to keep more misbehaving students in the classroom instead of suspending them, expelling them, or letting the police deal with them.
The goal of the consent decree approved by a federal court on Thursday is to “prevent and address racial discrimination in student discipline,” and to keep black students out of the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.
Among other items, the Meridian, Miss., Public School District has agreed to “limit discipline that removes students from classrooms.” That includes suspensions, expulsions and “exclusionary consequences for minor misbehavior.”
Instead of kicking unruly kids out of class, the school district will expand the use of “positive behavior intervention,” which sets clear expectations of students, acknowledges positive behavior, and uses misbehavior as an opportunity for re-teaching instead of punishment.
As part of the consent decree, no longer will police be called to Meridan schools when a student’s misbehavior can be “safely and appropriately handled” by school officials.
“The consent decree approved by the court today (Thursday) 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.”
Due process protections will be enhanced for students at school disciipline hearings, and the school system’s discipline data will be monitored to “identify and respond to racial disparities.”
The consent decree amends a longstanding federal school desegregation decree enforced by the United States, which prohibits the school district from discriminating against students based on race.
“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.”