An annual report from the U.S. Department of Education said there were a record number of civil rights complaints last year.

The report, titled Delivering Justice, summarizes the Department’s Office of Civil Rights’ enforcement activities for fiscal year 2015, and included 10,392 complaints. It opened more than 3,000 investigations into complaints based on race, national origin, gender, or disability. According to the report, federal officials resolved more than 1,000 cases, with the goal of “achieving equity and excellence” for every student.

U.S. Secretary of Education John King said in a statement that his civil rights office worked diligently last year toward that goal: “Through our guidance, technical assistance, data collection, and investigatory work, the department’s message to the public is clear: We are committed to working with and supporting schools to protect students’ civil rights — and we will take action to secure those rights when necessary.”

In recent weeks, NewsOne has covered some of the investigations, including a resolution in Oklahoma City and an ongoing case in Wake County, North Carolina.

On average, African-American students are three times more likely than White students to be expelled or suspended, according to the Department’s Rethink School Discipline guide for school superintendents. This disparity starts early. The Department reports that Black children represent just 18 percent of preschoolers, but nearly half of preschoolers suspended more than once.

Secretary King told NewsOne he’s optimistic. “Still, progress has not been fast enough,” he said. “There’s a lot more work to do on this.”

The education secretary said more than 40 school districts have committed to significant changes in their discipline policies through the Rethink School Discipline approach. King emphasized it’s not enough to change policy. It’s also necessary to replace those policies with positive behavior interventions, such as restorative justice approaches, to improve school climate.

King said he met recently with Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District Michelle King to talk about how the nation’s second largest school district is adjusting its discipline policies.

“She pointed out that a critical element of their effort is good professional development for teachers and principals, so they could effectively implement alternatives,” he said.

King explained that teacher and principal training are key ingredients to addressing the disparities that exist and to ensure the school climate is safe and supportive.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty

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