2013/03/22 — The Mississippi NAACP celebrates the groundbreaking proposed settlement in Meridian, Mississippi to end racially discriminatory student disciplinary practices. This decision by the U.S. Department of Justice will go a long way to halt the school-to-prison pipeline and enforce the civil rights of students. It is long overdue. For years, African-American students in Meridian were denied the educational opportunity through unfair school discipline where they were repeatedly suspended, criminalized, arrested and subjected to incarceration. These unjust practices were levied on children as young as ten years old, and children with disabilities. All too often these young students were punished for normal childhood behavior such as talking out of turn or wearing the wrong color shirt to school.
“The Meridian School District’s handling of school discipline that denied so many African-American children access to school parallels the segregation that was outlawed in the United States nearly 60 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education,” said Derrick Johnson, President of the Mississippi NAACP. He continues: “In Meridian, where officials fought ardently to block school integration in the 1960s, the unfair treatment of African-American schoolchildren is reminiscent of these historic battles over access to public education. This amendment to Meridian’s school desegregation order, Barnhardt and U.S. v. Meridian Municipal Separate School District, will, at long last, ensure that all of Meridian’s children are given a fair shot at getting an education and achieving their dreams.”
The agreement requires that the Meridian School District execute “student discipline in a fair and non-discriminatory manner.” The agreement also ensures that the district “reduces the disproportionate assignment of exclusionary sanctions to black students, and provides all students with an equal opportunity to learn in a safe, orderly, and supportive environment,” according to the proposed consent order.
Importantly, the settlement “acknowledges that the unnecessary use of exclusionary discipline can have serious, long-term, detrimental effects on student engagement and success,” per the proposed order. This groundbreaking settlement is the result of the hard work of hundreds of people in Meridian who united to demand an end to these unfair practices over several years, decrying the harm suffered by their children. The U.S. DOJ has shown exemplary leadership and foresight in taking seriously the civil rights violations endured by these students, and by seeking to remedy them in federal court through the proposed agreement.
“Meridian was an egregious example of a school district running a ‘dual discipline system,’ where African-American schoolchildren were punished disproportionately, causing grave harm to the students. The school discipline was executed in a manner that is the modern manifestation of the “dual school system” that was prohibited by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education,” said human rights attorney, Shakti Belway, who worked closely with the families in Meridian. “While African-American schoolchildren in Meridian were allowed to enter the schoolhouse door, they were routinely pushed out of school under the guise of school discipline.”
This landmark consent decree illustrates how important the nation’s school desegregation orders are to solving this country’s public education challenges. Further, these desegregation orders will remain critical until the nation resolves the issues around racial inequality that continue to plague it.
“Our country’s children deserve equal opportunity to achieve their dreams, and public education is the necessary foundation to the American dream,” said Johnson. “This proposed settlement should become a model for other school districts who are currently denying children educational opportunity through similar school discipline practices. We celebrate the Meridian School District for taking this important step to ensure Meridian’s children will have equal access to educational opportunity from this day forward,” he added.
Source: NAACPMS Staff