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WUNC's education coverage is led by reporters Dave Dewitt and Reema Khrais. Dewitt has been with the station since 2003. Khrais is focused on Education Policy Reporting. Browse recent stories here.

Groups Cite Rolesville Video In Federal Discrimination Complaint

Wake County School Bus
Dave DeWitt

Activist groups in Wake County are urging the U.S. Department of Education to take action against what they say are discriminatory disciplinary practices in Wake County Schools. In their letter, the groups have cited a videoof a school resource officer slamming a Rolesville High School student to the ground.

The letter to the Department of Education is the seventh follow-up to an original complaint filed in 2010 by a number of groups, including the Southern Coalition of Social Justice. They allege Wake County Public Schools disproportionately suspends black and Latino students, and that black students are disproportionately targeted and referred to adult criminal court by school resource officers.

"This event that just happened at Rolesville is a clear indication of that," said Wake County parent and leader of the Wake County Education Justice Alliance Letha Muhammad. "For that police officer to pick up that young lady and slam her to the ground the way that he did - violently - there was no reason for that."

A screengrab of a video posted to Twitter showing a Rolesville High School student being slammed to the ground by a police officer.
A screengrab of a video posted to Twitter showing a Rolesville High School student being slammed to the ground by a police officer.

Wake County School officials say they are aware of the video and are investigating with the Rolesville Police Department.

The letter to the Obama administration cites data showing that while black students make up about 25 percent of the student population, they make up 63 percent of out of school suspensions, and about 75 percent of referrals to adult criminal court.

Wake County Public Schools officials say they are taking steps to try to make discipline practices more equitable. The system has brought on a superintendent for equity, and says it has decreased suspensions by more than 30 percent in the last five years.

When it comes to the school resource officer program, Wake County Schools Chief of Staff Marvin Connelly says overall the agreement with local law enforcement is working.

"We believe that the program is successful and that our desired outcomes and goals have been accomplished," he said.

Muhammad disagrees. She says doesn't think school resource officers are keeping kids safe.

"Coming from a perspective of an African American and having children who are African American, they don't feel safer because oftentimes little minor behavior is criminalized," she said. "And so how do you feel safer for acting like a kid in school but being treated like a criminal?"

Muhammad wants to see the school resource officer program completely dismantled. And she hopes the Obama administration intervenes in Wake County before the transition of power to president-elect Donald Trump. Muhammad and the groups who filed the complaint are calling for federal authorities to monitor Wake County Schools' disciplinary practices.

Federal representatives visited Wake County in April 2016, but have not taken further action towards resolving the complaint.

Jess is WUNC's Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting. Her reporting focuses on how decisions made at the North Carolina General Assembly affect the state's students, families, teachers and communities.
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