AUSTIN, Texas, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Texas activists Friday said they are pleased U.S. education officials will investigate discipline practices in the Bryan, Texas, independent school district.
Texas Appleseed, a public interest law organization, and the Brazos County NAACP asked the Department of Education in February to look at what it called the "disparate impact" of the district issuing criminal citations for minor misbehavior.
The civil rights group says African-American students received discipline tickets four times more often than other students, even though black children were only 21 percent of the district's student population.
African-American students received 53 percent of all the tickets issued in 2011-12 for disrupting class, and 51 percent of the citations for disorderly conduct like profanity.
"In a very real sense, districts like Bryan are using law enforcement as a disciplinary tool, leading students into the school-to-prison pipeline," said Michael Harris, an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law.
The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights confirmed it would investigate the complaint.
"We are pleased that the ORC [Office for Civil Rights] is pursuing this important issue and look forward to working with the Department of Education and the Bryan school district to find more positive approaches to improving student behavior and keeping more children in class and out of the court system," said Debra Fowler, deputy director of Texas Appleseed.
Rachel Kleinman, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the investigation would send "a strong message to school districts around the country that the government takes seriously allegations that police are criminalizing children in school instead of keeping them safe."