Continued Discriminatory Discipline Practices in Wake County Schools Prompts Letter to U.S. Department of Education


January 5, 2017 

N.C. Youth Advocates Urge U.S. Department of Education to Address Continued Discriminatory Discipline Practices in Wake County Schools

Recent viral video just a snapshot of ongoing systemic discrimination

RALEIGH, N.C. – A coalition of youth justice advocates called on the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights earlier today, asking the agency to take immediate action to resolve a complaint initially filed against the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) in September 2010 –  2,295 days ago

The complaint itself highlights that this week’s excessive use of force against a Rolesville High School student is not an isolated incident. The viral video of a school resource officer slamming a young girl to the ground is troubling, yet not an uncommon use of excessive discipline for students of color. According to the complaint, Wake County students have been arrested and attacked as a result of throwing water balloons as part of a school-wide student prank tradition,handcuffed and treated like common criminals for infractions as minor as cutting in a school lunch line,2 and been TASED and pepper-sprayed for minor incidents that could have been readily resolved without such violent intervention.3

Further, the complaint alleges that the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) was – and continues to be – engaging in racially discriminatory school discipline practices. Today’s letter urges the federal agency to intervene to end the ongoing discrimination against Black students in Wake County public schools.

“All children deserve to be treated fairly, especially in our schools,” said Peggy Nicholson, Co-Director of the Youth Justice Project at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “However, racial discrimination clearly exists in how students are disciplined in Wake County public schools. We know it and the U.S. Department of Education knows it. It’s time for the federal government to step in and put a stop to the unlawful discrimination that’s happening here.”

Since the filing of the initial complaint in 2010, the coalition has provided seven updates to the Office for Civil Rights documenting the persistent nature of the discriminatory practices.  

“Discriminatory discipline practices have remained virtually unchanged over the past six years. That clearly demonstrates that the problem is systemic,” said Jennifer Story, Supervising Attorney at the Advocates for Children’s Services at Legal Aid of North Carolina. “Not only are we asking for action from the U.S. Department of Education, we are asking for ongoing monitoring to ensure compliance. Otherwise, we run the risk of continuing to allow discrimination and depriving kids of the fairness and opportunities they deserve.” 

Even though Black students consistently represented approximately 25% of the student body during the 2010-11 to 2014-15 school years, data presented in today’s letter to the Office for Civil Rights points out that Black students:

  • Received upwards of 63% of all out-of-school suspensions given to students in the district during that same time period;
  • Received between 64 and 76% of school-based referrals to juvenile delinquency court;
  • Accounted for:  
    • 72% of the 387 high school students referred to adult criminal court;
    • 75% of the 4 middle school students referred to adult criminal court; and,
    • 77% of the 13 alternative school students referred to adult criminal court.

“The system is failing our kids,” said Letha Muhammad, parent and leader of Education Justice Alliance in Wake. “We need help. Our children know that discrimination is wrong and their school system is treating them differently. We need the Wake County Public School System to be held accountable for their discriminatory practices. Right now, students of color are being treated as second-class citizens and that’s not something they deserve or something that we should tolerate.”

Although the school system has made some efforts to address the disparities, the data clearly reveals an obvious pattern of discrimination. In calling for the Office for Civil Rights to address the longstanding complaint, coalition partners are hoping that the agency’s action and monitoring will ensure that Black students are not subject to continued, unlawful discrimination. 

The coalition’s letter the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is attached and can also be found here:


1Hui, T. K. (2013, May 30). Seven Enloe students arrested in balloon-tossing prank. Raleigh News and Observer. Retrieved from; Saunders, B. (2013, August 20). Saunders: In Enloe water-balloon case, does punishment fit the crime? Raleigh News and Observer. Retrieved from

See Knafo, S. (2014, January 24). Teen Handcuffed for Cutting In Line in School Cafeteria: Complaint. Retrieved from

See Klein, R. (2016, August 11). Set to Stun: Children are being Tasered by school-based police officers. No one knows how often it’s happening or what impact it’s having on students. Retrieved from