The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today resolved a compliance review of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (WS/FCS or district) in North Carolina that examined whether the school district discriminates against African American students by disciplining them more frequently and more harshly than similarly situated white students.
In addition to persistent and significant racial disparities in district disciplinary referral rates and suspension rates generally that OCR confirmed as recently as the 2022-23 school year, OCR’s investigation found evidence suggesting that African American students were subjected to harsher discipline than white students with similar discipline histories and conduct. For example, OCR’s analysis of district discipline records showed that:
- African American students were more likely than white students to be suspended for their first offense of the school year overall.
- African American students were suspended at higher rates than white students for first-time offenses for certain offense levels and certain specific offenses. And,
- African American students were suspended for lengthier periods than white students, on average, for first offenses of fighting.
During the 2022-23 school year, the district reported that African American students received 57.2% of discipline resulting in in-school or out-of-school suspension and white students received 14.2% of such discipline as of March 2023; in that school year, 29% of district students were African American and 34% were white.
OCR was also concerned that the discipline code in effect prior to 2022 did not clearly define some of the most common offenses, which may have contributed to the different treatment of students based on race suggested in district records. While the district recently revised its discipline code to include definitions for most offenses that should provide better guidance to staff, the revised 2022 code leaves OCR concerned about the clarity of the guidance to staff and administrators about when to make referrals and how to determine appropriate consequences, particularly given the broad range of potential consequences for many offenses.
To resolve these concerns before OCR completed investigation of the district, WS/FCS committed to take steps to ensure that its disciplinary practices do not discriminate against students on the basis of race in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, building on the district’s previous efforts to promote equity in student discipline. WS/FCS agreed to:
- Review its current discipline code to determine if further revisions are necessary.
- Continue to train administrators and staff on the discipline code.
- Collect complete and accurate data on all disciplinary referrals.
- Analyze its current discipline data for evidence of unlawful discrimination or failure to comply with the discipline code.
- Put in place corrective actions to address any concerns it identifies through its data analysis.
- Coordinate with local law enforcement agencies on School Resource Officer data collection, training, and monitoring.
- Conduct an assessment, with consideration of revision, of alternative school programs for students who commit discipline violations to determine program effectiveness as well as assess whether referrals to these programs are consistent with the district discipline code.
- Provide information on its discipline policies for students and families. And,
- Submit to OCR annual reports regarding the effectiveness of WS/FCS’s efforts for OCR review and assessment.
“Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools has agreed today to take important additional steps to ensure it administers student discipline without discrimination on the basis of race,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. “I look forward to ongoing work with this district as it offers all its students the nondiscriminatory learning environment federal law requires.”
In partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of Education recently released a Resource on Confronting Racial Discrimination in Student Discipline that describes how the departments have resolved similar investigations in other school districts.