The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is investigating whether the Pinellas County (Fla.) School District systematically discriminates against black children.
The Tampa Bay Times reports that the probe review will look into whether Pinellas is denying African-American children access to courses and special programs they need to be successful in high school and after graduation, and whether the district is denying black children access to high-quality teachers, school leaders and support staff.
The Office for Civil Rights launched the investigation in response to a yearlong investigation by the newspaper that detailed the decline of five schools in St. Petersburg's black neighborhoods. Pinellas County enrolls about 104,000 students, and 18.6 percent are black, the district says.
"The federal civil rights inquiry should convey a sense of urgency to the Pinellas School District and our community regarding their support for our students," says U.S. Rep Kathy Castor, who had asked the agency earlier this year to investigate. "Many unanswered questions remain over why promises were not kept to students in South St. Petersburg schools. The Office of Civil Rights is right to press for answers. Every student deserves an equal opportunity to a good education no matter their zip code or neighborhood."
In a letter to Castor, Catherine E. Lhamon, the education department's assistant secretary for civil rights says the office of civil rights "will examine whether the district discriminates against African American students with respect to providing access to course, programs and extracurricular activities, including access to foundational courses that are essential to prepare students to take rigorous courses in high school and to provide them with the skills necessary for success in college and/or career."