DOTHAN, AL (WSFA) - The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the Dothan City Schools system. The Montgomery-based SPLC claims the southeast Alabama school district's policies result in disproportionate discipline and arrests of students who are black or have disabilities for minor misconduct issues.
SPLC filed its complaint with the U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights, stating that while the district's student-body is 55 percent African-American, they account for 100 percent of the students expelled for the most recent school year, as well as 85 percent of those removed from class for disciplinary reasons. SPLC says disciplinary actions against students with disabilities have also doubled since 2013-14.
"Dothan's most vulnerable children are being systematically railroaded and written off because of racially discriminatory practices that often treat normal adolescent behavior like criminal activity," said Natalie Lyons, SPLC staff attorney. "We worked with the school district and were disappointed that the district did not adopt all of the necessary reforms to ensure that children of color and those with disabilities are treated fairly."
Despite working with the school district on reforms, the SPLC contends DCS opted not to adopt reforms such as removal of vague and subjective offenses that could give administrators broad discretion to discriminate against black students.
"We disagree with many of their statements," said Dothan City Schools Superintendent Dr. Charles Ledbetter in a statement. "We look forward to working with the U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Division to show them all of the information so they understand the entire picture."
Ledbetter continued, "We do contend that we have evidence that we don't discriminate against any minority students. Some proof of that is our 92% graduation rate and 89% graduation rate for our African-American students both of which are well above the Alabama graduation rate average..."
"The evidence is clear that the school district has been disproportionately subjecting black children and children with disabilities to harsh, punitive measures for years," Lyons said. "Without significant reforms, these children will continue to bear the brunt of the district's practices and many, sadly, will suffer lifelong consequences."