New Info: Civil Rights Complaint Over Dress Code Received By Office Of Civil Rights

The U.S. Department of Education press office says its Civil Rights Office has received a complaint from the Pitt County Coalition for Educating Black Children against Pitt County Schools.

The complaint alleges that the district targets students (predominantly African American students) in the enforcement of its dress code.

The complaint also states that because the district is disproportionately implementing its dress code policy against black students, they are being disproportionately disciplined for dress code violations (such as being placed on in-school or out-of-school suspension). As a result, they are disproportionately missing classes and/or participation in extracurricular activities, negatively impacting their academic achievement.

Right now, the allegations are under evaluation to determine if they are appropriate for OCR investigation and resolution.

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A spokesperson for the Department of Education says their office has not received a complaint from anyone representing the Pitt County Coalition for Educating Black Children.

The group says they filed the complaint on behalf of a J.H. Rose High School Senior who was sent home for dress code violations.

The Coalition alleges the school systems dress code policy targets black students and effectively denies them their rights to a free education.

Its a topic which everyone seems to have an opinion on.

A representative for the school system says a total of 150 students were suspended due to dress code violations.

Of that a total of 77 percent were black and 14 percent were white.

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A complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights says the dress code in Pitt County Schools is targeting black students and denying their right to a free, public education.

The Pitt County Coalition for Educating Black Children has filed the complaint based on the experience of a 17-year-old honors student at J.H. Rose High School in Greenville. The complaint says school officials punished the girl in early January for a dress code violation, which resulted in her missing class. The complaint continues that African-American students throughout the county are being denied class time and participation in extracurricular activities because of dress code violations.

"The actions of the Pitt County Board of Education in adopting and implementing the dress code policy disproportionately causes the loss of instructional time to African American students and consequently increases the rate of student suspensions, school dropouts, low SAT
scores, and adversely contributes to the approximately 30 point achievement gap between Black and White students. The Pitt County Board of Education knew or should have known that their dress code policy would and is adversely impacting African American students," the complaint reads.

The complaint was filed Wednesday.

In a statement Thursday morning, Pitt County Schools says it has not received a copy of the complaint, nor has it received an official confirmation from the Office of Civil Rights that a complaint has been filed.

The school district says until it has a chance to review the information, it cannot comment on the actual complaint.

Late Thursday afternoon, the school system released this statement:

"OCR Complaint - School Uniform Policy

February 25, 2010 - PCS was contacted this morning from various news media representatives about a potential complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) regarding Pitt County Board of Education Policy 10.209.

Key Points:

A complaint filed with the OCR is not a lawsuit. The OCR does not open an investigation into every complaint that is received. At this time, the school district has not received anything from the OCR that a complaint has been filed or to indicate that they are opening an investigation into a complaint.

The Pitt County Board of Education’s anti-discrimination policy encourages students and/or their parents to submit any complaints of discrimination, harassment or bullying through the complaint process established in Procedure 10.212-P (Procedure for Student and Parent Grievances). To date, PCS has not received a grievance regarding any type of racial discrimination in the administration of our School Uniform and Appearance Policy.

The Pitt County Board of Education held an extensive year long community engagement process prior to the adoption of the school uniform policy.

Background on Uniforms

Bethel School and Belvoir Elementary School implemented school uniform policies several years prior to the district-wide policy being approved. These pilots were successful, and no claims of racial discrimination were ever made.

PCS has decreased out-of-school suspensions in the last two years by 19%. We recognize that the representation of African-Americans is high. As a district, we will continue to implement initiatives designed to decrease suspension rates for all students.

The following is a break-down of school uniform out-of-school suspensions to date in grades K-12.

Total Number of Suspensions = 174
Total Number of Students = 150
Percent African-American = 77%
Percent Caucasian = 14%
Uniforms represent only 3.2% of all out of school suspensions to date

PCS has never asserted that the uniform policy would raise achievement levels.

The PCS administration has always acknowledged the achievement gap between our African-American and Caucasian students. Although we still have much work to do, the teachers, staff, students, parents and community are to be commended for their efforts in helping our district address this issue. The number of African-American subgroups meeting AYP increased from 41% in 2008 (before uniforms) to 84% in 2009 (after uniforms). Any claim that the uniform policy resulted in lower achievement for African-American students during the first year of uniforms is false.

Since its implementation, the school Uniform and Appearance Policy has had tremendous support from our parents, students, staff and community.

To date, more than $30,000 has been donated to our School Uniform Form fund. This money is used by our School Social Workers to help provide clothing to students in need. While this dollar amount only reflects donations made directly to PCS, we know that many others have made contributions including the NAACP, local churches, businesses, civic groups and individuals. Many schools in this district also have a selection of school uniform clothing that is used to help students in need. These items have also been donated from our parents, students, staff and community. We are very grateful for this support.

“I can’t say enough about the phenomenal support demonstrated by our parents, civic groups, businesses, churches, and the entire community during the implementation of this policy,” commented Superintendent Dr. Beverly Reep. “Our first year was not without challenges, but our second year of implementation has been much smoother. We can only hope that Mr. Hall, CEO of the Kinston Charter Academy, has experienced this same support and success in the implementation of the required uniform policy that exists at the Kinston Charter Academy.”

End of statement

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