U.S. Department of Education investigating SLC School District after allegations of discrimination

Posted at 6:27 PM, Aug 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-20 00:02:11-04

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The U.S. Department of Education is launching an investigation into the Salt Lake City School District.

Michael Clara, is a member of the Salt Lake City School Board, and he said he brought up concerns about discrimination and unfair treatment of minority students to the board, but it fell on deaf ears.

“I was just aghast at one point that the leadership of the city or Mayor’s office was not interested in dealing with this and neither was the leadership in the school district,” Clara said.

Clara is questioning the district’s use of school resource officers. He claims there is a disproportionate amount of school resource officers at schools like Glendale Middle, where the majority of students are minorities.

Clara worries that exposing students of color to police early on can create what researchers call the “School to Prison Pipeline”, where students are funneled out of public schools into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

“The research is also showing is that we`re conditioning our kids to expect that kind of response when they misbehave,” Clara said.

OCR is also looking into claims of retaliation against Clara. Clara said once he started voicing his concerns to the board, the district brought in a school resource officer at board meetings to keep an eye on him.

The Salt Lake City School District did not want to comment on camera, but they provided the following statement:

“The Salt Lake City School District welcomes any objective review of our programs and practices. We are focused on providing the best education we can to the children of Salt Lake City and invite any technical help in moving us toward this goal.

Appropriate student discipline is a national issue, which is being reviewed and approached on several fronts. For the past few years, Salt Lake City School District leaders and equity advocates have been meeting with community organizations, such as the Disproportionate Minority Contact Subcommittee of the Utah Board of Juvenile Justice, to study data from our district and from across the state. We are working proactively to implement policies and procedures that ensure equity for all students. We look forward to the Office for Civil Rights review and hopefully learning additional ways to help address any possible inequities for the young people we serve.”

It’s hard to say how long the investigation will last. If the OCR finds the district in violation of the claims, the district could lose federal funding and face other penalties.