WUFT News

Suwannee County School District Still Facing Civil Rights Allegations

By on October 25th, 2013

The Suwannee County School District is still facing civil rights allegations for disciplinary policies that remove African-American students from class nearly twice as often as their white counterparts.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed complaints of unfair disciplinary action with the Department of Education (DOE) last year.

The DOE approved the complaints and forwarded them to the Office of Civil Rights.

Stephanie Langer, staff attorney for the SPLC’s Florida office, said Thursday little has been done to improve the situation since then.

“While we’ve had small successes and we’ve seen some movement, we haven’t seen any dramatic changes yet,” Langer said.

Twenty-four of 1,000 students are arrested at schools in Suwannee — 10 more students than the state’s average. Langer added that African-American students are twice as likely to be suspended from school in Suwannee.

Langer said the SPLC’s main goal is to give African-American students a voice in this situation so that they can become a part of the solution and she hopes the school district will approach the table willing to reach an agreement.

Julie Ulmer, Suwannee’s School Board Member for District 3, rejected Langer’s claims, calling them off-base. Ulmer said Friday the situation has improved since the beginning of the investigation.

“We have reduced the referrals to one-third what they were a year ago, as far as in-school suspensions and out of school suspensions go,” she said.

Ulmer denied the existence of racism in Suwannee schools altogether and said there are districtwide programs in place designed to help students who repeatedly get into trouble.

“We have implemented a program called CHAMPS, which is a positive behavior management program, where students learn what the rules are and how to behave themselves,” Ulmer said.

CHAMPS focuses on helping students determine what are considered positive behaviors and negative behaviors. Opportunity Schools are available for students whose repeated actions threaten classroom safety.

Suwannee is only one of five counties in Florida the SLPC is investigating. As a whole, Florida ranks among the worst states for disciplinary action in schools, SPLC said.


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