Tupelo schools discipline to get federal review

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will investigate whether discipline in the Tupelo Public School District is consistent across racial lines.
Interim Superintendent David Meadows announced the investigation during Tuesday’s school board meeting, saying that Tupelo was one of 20 school districts selected by the OCR for a compliance review.
A message left at the OCR asking why Tupelo was chosen for the review was not immediately returned. School district attorney Kelly Stimpson said OCR representatives told her that it was part of a routine compliance review.
Discipline in Tupelo schools has been a major point of community conversation lately, and Stimpson said that may be one reason Tupelo was selected for the review. Much of that conversation has centered on concerns that discipline was too lax and that students were not showing enough respect for teachers.
“I think they have been looking at this issue regarding student discipline,” Stimpson said. “Student discipline in the TPSD has been an issue for some months. They probably have their finger on the pulse and realize we were looking at discipline ourselves so they chose us as one of the 20 school districts they looked at.”
In March 2010, the school district released an internal report saying that the number of students suspended was disproportionately slanted toward low-income students and black males.
According to that report, during the first six months of the 2009-10 school year, more than 90 percent of those students receiving suspensions qualified for the free-reduced lunch program. Sixty-six percent were black males.
Upon releasing that report, district leaders acknowledged the disparity and pledged to review discipline policies.
Meadows said the district was notified about the compliance review a couple of weeks ago. The other 19 school districts selected are located throughout the southeast region, Stimpson said.
Racial comparison
The review will include an on-site visit by the OCR, Meadows said. It will specifically look at how discipline of black students compares to discipline of all other students.
The school district is gathering data for the OCR from the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, Meadows said. Representatives from the organization will come to Tupelo in May to review that data and to interview students, parents, teachers and community members.
The result of the review could be recommendations for the district to follow, Stimpson said.
“They address systemic issues to ensure that violations are readily identified and promptly eliminated,” Stimpson said. “If they were to find violations of civil rights law, they would identify them, and we would promptly eliminate them.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com.