Wichita Public Schools
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Justice Department probe of Wichita (Kansas) schools found race and disability discrimination

July 5, 2024
In settlement agreement, the school system says it will change its practices and develop a new student code of conduct.
The Wichita (Kansas) school district and the U.S. Department of Justice have reached a settlement after an investigation into the school system uncovered race and disability discrimination in how discipline is dealt out. “
The Wichita Eagle reports that investigation found that the district’s Black students were disciplined more frequently and more severely than white students who engaged in similar conduct and had similar backgrounds and disciplinary histories.
“This pattern," the justice department said, "was most evident when it came to subjective offenses such as insubordination, and was especially stark when it came to discipline of Black girls, whose behavior was repeatedly characterized using stereotypical terms like ‘attitude’ or ‘drama.’”
The investigation also concluded that the Wichita district “inappropriately and repeatedly secluded and restrained students with disabilities and relegated those with the greatest behavioral needs to inferior facilities with inadequate services and support.”
When the department visited Wichita’s special schools for students with behavioral disabilities, investigators reported finding “inferior facilities devoid of furniture, educational equipment and the kinds of decor commonly found in schools, and staff who could not meet the needs of students.” 
Wichita Superintendent Kelly Bielefeld said the district is committed to fulfilling the requirements laid out in the settlement agreement, which include eliminating seclusion, developing a new student code of conduct and establishing a district-level system that monitors disciplinary tactics and ensures their equity.
 “We don’t know what may have prompted the initial inquiry," Bielefeld said. "But I can tell you that we can and we must create a more equitable school district, and we will do so by changing some of our practices and procedures going forward.”
The justice department identified discriminatory treatment of Black students at multiple schools, with Black girls in particular “facing especially high levels of exclusion for perceived insubordination and for dress code violations at certain middle schools.”
The investigation also found evidence of racial discrimination in referrals to law enforcement and a pattern of security officers responding to routine discipline matters and escalating those incidents, “resulting in the unnecessary referral of Black students to law enforcement for routine or minor misbehavior.”
Regarding restraint and seclusion of students, the justice department found that in the three years covered by the investigation, more than 98% of the 3,000 students restrained and secluded had disabilities.
About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy has been writing about education for American School & University since 1999. He also has reported on schools and other topics for The Chicago Tribune, The Kansas City Star, The Kansas City Times and City News Bureau of Chicago. He is a graduate of Michigan State University.

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