Wednesday, November 18, 2015

ISD 535: "restraining the heartless"

But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.  - Martin Luther King, Jr., address, Western Michigan University, December 18, 1963 

The discipline of students enrolled in ISD 535 is now the effective purview of the federal government through the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.

Title VI: Discipline: Rochester Public Schools (District) (MN) (05-10-5003) 
On September 1, 2015, the Rochester Public Schools (District) entered into a voluntary Agreement to resolve a Title VI compliance review that OCR initiated regarding the equitable discipline of students.  According to the Agreement,
  • the District will review its Student Behavior Handbook and make revisions, as appropriate, taking into account any recommendations or suggestions made by the District’s consulting expert and other relevant parties; 
  • designate an employee to serve as a Discipline Supervisor and designate administrators who will address complaints regarding matters related to its disciplinary policies; 
  • require teaching and support staff to employ a range of corrective measures before referring a student to administrative personnel; 
  • instruct the established team at each school to discuss and make recommendations on the equitable implementation of discipline policies, practices, and procedures; 
  • place a link on its website to OCR’s Civil Rights Data Collection data for the District and a link to updated data concerning referrals for discipline, suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to law enforcement, disaggregated by race and other factors; 
  • ensure that it has in place a system of supports, such as mentoring or counseling, to assist students who display behavior problems; 
  • provide annual training programs on discipline to District personnel and students and make informational programs on the District’s discipline policies and procedures and an updated Student Behavior Handbook available to parents or guardians on the District website; 
  • collect and evaluate data on an annual basis regarding disciplinary referrals, suspensions, expulsions, and reports to law enforcement; evaluate whether it is implementing its student discipline policies, practices and procedures in a non-discriminatory manner; 
  • establish uniform standards for the content of student discipline files at all schools; 
  • examine how disciplinary referrals occurring at each school compare to those at other District schools and explore possible causes for any racial disproportion and consider steps that can be taken to eliminate the disproportion to the maximum extent possible; 
  • and limit the role of police liaison officers to investigating crimes or potential crimes and not include the officers in recommending or determining student discipline.
This summary [bullets and formatting added] of the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) Title VI compliance review outcome regarding the Rochester Public Schools (ISD 535) is available on the department's website.

Also available are copies of the Resolution Agreement #05-10-5003 Rochester Public School District signed by the Rochester Public School Board Chair Deborah Seelinger, and the Rochester Public School Board Clerk Dan O'Neil on September 1, 2015; and, the Resolution Letter addressed to ISD 535 Superintendent Mr. Michael Muñoz and signed by Adele Rapport, Regional Director, US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Greater Chicago Area, dated September 9, 2015.

When the Post-Bulletin asked for information regarding this Title VI compliance review and the resulting agreement now in force, the superintendent demurred claiming concerns about "data privacy". It may well be the case that the district is under no obligation to release the information to the public. However, the pretense that the findings of this Title VI compliance review and resulting agreement is somehow subject to the data privacy restrictions is belied on page 14 of the very letter the superintendent received on 09.09.15.
Additionally, under the Freedom of Information Act, it may be necessary to release this document and related correspondence and records upon request. In the event that OCR receives such a request, we will seek to protect, to the extent provided by law, personally identifiable information, which, if released, could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
Apparently Post-Bulletin reporter Brett Boese, who has done some excellent reporting (see here and here) breaking this story, eventually acquired the paperwork through "another source". Whether he used an FOIA request, or just googled it as I did, I do not know. Either way, the superintendent had little justification for not being more forthcoming. Nor, for that matter, did the school board.

As this blog post was being written, the Post-Bulletin posted an editorial calling on the district to "shine more light on school discipline." Agreed. But greater transparency must be accompanied by greater accountability to the public. Greater accountability to the parents of the 17,163 students enrolled in the district. Greater accountability especially to the parents of black students whose treatment by the district are at the center of the civil rights issues that were the subject of the OCR compliance review.

When district officials indicate they are "taking steps to address this issue," let's be clear these steps are being taken as part of an agreement with the federal government that forestalled further review of possible illegalities. The steps the district are taking to address this issue are subject to OCR oversight and reporting requirements and the threat of "administrative enforcement or judicial proceedings to enforce the specific terms and obligations of the Agreement" should the district again fall short of doing so.

The district's failure to provide a learning environment that respects the civil rights of black students has come to this:
Based on the commitments the District has made in the Agreement described above, OCR has determined that it is appropriate to close the investigative phase of this compliance review. OCR will monitor the District’s implementation of the Agreement. All plans, policies and procedures that are developing during the monitoring are subject to OCR review and approval. The District has agreed to provide data and other information demonstrating implementation of the Agreement in a timely manner in accordance with the reporting requirements of the Agreement. OCR may conduct additional visits and request additional information as necessary to determine whether the District has fulfilled the terms of the Agreement and is in compliance with Title VI with regard to the issues in the review. OCR will not close the monitoring of this Agreement until it has determined that the District has complied with the terms of the Agreement and is in compliance with Title VI.
In short, to ensure that the civil rights of black students are protected, the discipline of students enrolled in ISD 535 is now the effective purview of the federal government through the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.

Well, if that's what it takes.

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