The NAACP raised similar issues in a 2004 federal complaint, which led to an improvement plan that addressed academics and discipline in the 76,000-student district. But little progress has been made on discipline, the 2011 complaint says, and in some cases discipline actions involving African Americans have increased.
Jacqueline Boone Allsup, president of the Anne Arundel branch, said she hopes the new federal action, described in a March 29 letter, will produce concrete changes.
“It’s my hope that once the investigation is completed that there will be programs and policies in place that will assure no child will be discriminated against in disciplinary practices, that all children will be treated equally,” she said.
A Washington Post analysis of 14 local school systems showed that Anne Arundel had one of the highest suspension rates for African Americans in the Washington region last school year. Nearly 16 percent of Anne Arundel black students from kindergarten to grade 12 were suspended or expelled, compared to about 6 percent for white and Hispanic students, and about 3 percent for Asian students.
The federal examination in Anne Arundel comes as the Maryland State Board of Education proposes major changes in discipline practices across the state’s 24 school systems. Among its proposals is a measure to require districts to closely track suspension patterns and account for racial gaps and other problems. Corrective actions would be required.
Anne Arundel Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell considers the issue a top concern, said spokesman Bob Mosier, but “it is not an area where the improvement has been as quick or dramatic as he would like.”
Disparities “are clear in the numbers,” Mosier said, “but how do we go about addressing them?” Solutions are complex, he said. “There is no single button you can push to solve this problem,” he said.
The system has created advisory committees, and lately officials are “taking a long, hard look” at subjective offenses, he said.
One question, Mosier said, is: “How are disrespect and insubordination handled, and are there disparities there?” He said the analysis, on a sampling of cases, will “get beyond the what and look at the why.” Results should come in a couple of months, he said.
Meanwhile, Anne Arundel has begun cooperating with federal effort, he said.
The Office for Civil Rights declined to comment on the case. Nationally, about 100 discipline complaints are under investigation. The decision to open a case does not mean civil rights violations have occurred, federal officials said.
The NAACP supports using disciplinary measures when needed, Allsup said, but wants consistency. Parents have complained about African American students drawing longer suspensions for similar infractions, she said.