The Wake County Public School System has a disturbing history of suspending, expelling and arresting black and brown students at much higher rates than their white peers, beginning in elementary school.
In K-5, where black students make up 23 percent of the population, they are suspended at a rate of 51 percent. By high school, white students who make up 49 percent of the student population receive 22 percent of all referrals to the criminal justice system; black students comprise 69 percent of all students arrested at school by school resource officers, and 49 percent of all students forced into the criminal justice system, where they can be tried in court as adults for misdemeanors after the age of 16.
Overall, 62 percent of all students suspended are black, and 13.5 percent are Latino; black students comprise just 24 percent of all students enrolled.
Five years ago, several groups including the Concerned Citizens for African American Children, the Education Justice Alliance, NAACP and the Youth Organizing Institute signed on to a federal complaint against the Wake County Public School System for racial discrimination. The federal Department of Education has been investigating WCPSS since 2010.
Now, officials from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights are coming back to Wake County to investigate the disproportionate rates of suspension, expulsion and arrests of black and Latino students that still persist.
At a forum at the Vital Link Event Center at 1214 East Lenoir Street in Raleigh, students and their parents are invited to share their concerns with OCR officials Tuesday evening from 6-8 p.m. They will have the opportunity to speak privately, said the Rev. Dr. Portia Rochelle, president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP at a press conference Monday at the Martin Street Baptist Church.
"All these numbers and statistics have stories behind them filled with you children’s pain and suffering, everyday discomfort and your children being excluded from school and not being given the same fair shake as every other student is entitled to receive," said Tavon Bridges from the Youth Organizing Institute.
Sanyu Gichie, a Youth Organizing Institute campaign coordinator, says Wake County students need disciplinary practices that don't exclude them from the classroom. She says restorative justice practices and counselling change behavior and improve lives.
"There also needs to be an acknowledgement from the Wake County Public School System of implicit bias that is known in every day life as racism," she said.
The Wake County Public School System has hosted public forums and community meetings in the past few months to try to address peoples' concerns and to gather input from students and parents.
But Calla Wright, the founder of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African American Children, said she attended one of the meetings at Southeast Raleigh High School. She said the data WCPSS presented to parents "did not reflect the actual suspension data that the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has."
"The Department of Public Instruction has data showing that 5,000 black males were suspended last school year, and more than 2,000 black females were suspended," Wright said. "The discrepancies are questionable or of great concern to many parents in our community."