Community Groups Add to Civil Rights Complaint Against Lee County School System

FORT MYERS, F.L. – The Lee County NAACP submitted an amended civil rights complaint to the U.S. Department of Education last week, pointing out that students of color are drastically overrepresented in the school-to-prison pipeline as a result of the school district’s current disciplinary policies and are afforded fewer opportunities to succeed academically than their white peers.

The amended complaint includes examples of individual students and families affected by the systemic issues raised in the original complaint filed in September 2017. The violations in the complaint signal the school system’s failure to comply with the Civil Rights Act, a requirement for all schools that receive federal funding.

“The majority of students in Lee County schools are students of color,” noted James Muwakkil, President of the Lee County NAACP.  “And sadly, students of color here are more likely than their white peers to be removed from the classroom, suspended, expelled, referred to law enforcement, and drop out. Our school system is failing our children and we must do something about it now.”

The current Lee County school district policies result in students of color having:

  • Higher retention and dropout rates: Black students, who make up 15% of the school district population, represent 22% of students who are held back a year in school and 18.9% of students who drop out in a single year. Hispanic students make up 35% of the student population but 40% of students who are held back and 40% of single-year dropouts. By contrast, white students, who make up 45% of the school district population, represent just 34% of students who are held back and 40% of single-year dropouts.
  • Lower graduation rates: Black students graduate at a 63% rate, compared to a 71% rate for Hispanic students and an 80% rate for white students.
  • Lower gifted enrollment: Black students represent just 6% of students who are enrolled in gifted programs. Hispanic students represent 20%. White students represent 67%.
  • Increased racial achievement gap: The achievement gap between black and white students in Lee County is 30 percentage points or more in all subject areas.  For Hispanic students, it’s at least 17 percentage points in all subject areas.  The district lags behind the state average in all categories.

The complaint also makes suggestions for how the school system can address the civil rights violations.  The complaint asks the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights to require Lee County School District to:

  • Adopt more equitable policies based on those that have succeeded in other school districts that serve primarily students of color, including a revised code of student conduct and student discipline bill of rights providing adequate due process.
  • Improve training about race for its staff and administrators.
  • Set clearer expectations for student behavior.
  • Expand the number of representatives of color on the School Board and its advisory committees.
  • Study the reasons for the current academic and disciplinary disparities to inform additional needed policy reforms.

All of the suggested changes are policies or practices that have been implemented by other Florida school systems to address similar problems.  

“There are solutions for the discrimination that students of color face in this school system.  We have seen the school systems in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Broward Counties make changes to make students safer and more successful in their schools.  We can do the same thing right here in Lee County.  Students should have every chance to succeed.  And I am not going to sit by and let the schools be the place that holds them back or pushes them off course,” said Dr. Shirley Chapman, chairwoman of the Lee County NAACP Education Committee.

The original report and new supplement can be found at