Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced today that his office reached an agreement with the Syracuse City School District that will help reduce the high use of exclusionary discipline in the district. The agreement will further the commitment of both the Attorney General and the Syracuse City School District to protect school safety, while ensuring that every student in Syracuse has access to a quality educational environment.
Last year, the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau began investigating the disciplinary policies and practices of the Syracuse City School District. Specifically, the bureau reviewed the district’s practices for compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits state and local government entities receiving federal funding, such as school districts, from discriminating against their students on the basis of race or national origin. Discrimination includes the use of school discipline in a manner that treats similarly situated individuals differently on the basis of race. The bureau also investigated the district’s compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and state education law, which provides students facing discipline with certain procedural rights that must be respected.
The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that the district suspended 30% of its students during the 2012-13 school year, giving it one of the highest rates of suspension in the state and nation. A significant proportion of those suspensions were for non-violent conduct. The Attorney General’s office also found that the district had a record of suspending black students at twice the rate of white students. These disparities persisted even when the conduct at issue was non-violent. The investigation revealed serious procedural deficiencies in the district’s implementation of discipline. The district often failed to provide adequate notice or convene adequate hearings for students facing discipline. Finally, the Attorney General found that students with disabilities were often disciplined for behavior that was directly related to their disability, in violation of federal law.