Whether schoolchildren in DeSoto County, Mississippi, are paddled varies by their race. Black students are almost two and a half times more likely than whites to endure the corporal punishment permitted under school district policy for skipping class, insubordination, repeated tardiness, flagrant dress code violations, or other misbehavior: up to three “licks per incident on the buttocks with an appropriate instrument approved by the principal.”
Black students in DeSoto — a suburban area just south of Memphis, Tennessee — are also more prone to face other forms of school discipline. While comprising 35 percent of district enrollment, they account for 55 percent of suspensions and expulsions, and more than 60 percent of referrals to law enforcement, federal education data shows.
Citing such disparities, a group of families in the county filed a federal complaint in 2015 with the help of the Advancement Project, a national advocacy group. For three years, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigated DeSoto, visiting schools and meeting with parents and administrators, according to the complainants. Then, this past April, the department closed the probe without finding any violation, due to “insufficient evidence.”
“This is indicative of how they are now evaluating and handling complaints,” said Kaitlin Banner, a senior attorney with the Advancement Project.
A ProPublica analysis of data on more than 40,000 civil rights cases, obtained through multiple public records requests, bears out Banner’s point. We found that, under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the department has scuttled more than 1,200 civil rights investigations that were begun under the Obama administration and lasted at least six months. These cases, which investigated complaints of civil rights violations ranging from discriminatory discipline to sexual violence in school districts and colleges around the country, were closed without any findings of…