Local activists are citing an incident in which a black Rolesville High School student was slammed to the floor by a police officer in their request Thursday for federal civil rights investigators to take immediate action against the Wake County school system.
The activists are calling on the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to act on a 2010 complaint accusing Wake schools of engaging in discriminatory student discipline practices. In a letter to federal officials, activists say the Rolesville incident is a sign of the continuing discrimination faced by Wake’s students of color.
A nine-second video posted on Twitter on Tuesday shows Officer Ruben De Los Santos lifting Jasmine Darwin into the air and dropping her to the floor before leading her away from a crowd of fellow students. An attorney for Darwin’s family says she had been trying to break up a fight between two other girls when she was “slammed on the ground like a rag doll” and suffered a concussion.
De Los Santos was placed on paid administrative leave by the Rolesville Police Department until the investigation is complete. Wake school officials also say they’re reviewing the district’s agreement with local law enforcement agencies on school resource officers.
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“The video has been getting lots of attention,” said Peggy Nicholson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Unfortunately, as anyone who attends schools or works with students knows, these kinds of incidents happen all the time.”
In addition to Nicholson’s group, others who signed Thursday’s letter include the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Raleigh-Apex NAACP, the Education Justice Alliance and the UNC Center for Civil Rights.
“We too are concerned with what occurred,” Lisa Luten, a Wake schools spokeswoman said of the Rolesville incident. She said the district appreciates Rolesville police beginning an immediate investigation, placing De Los Santos on leave and requesting help from the State Bureau of Investigation.
Luten also said Wake acknowledges the disparities in school equity and has put in place strategies and efforts to ensure that all students can learn, grow and succeed.
“Our successes in equity include improved graduation rates, increased proficiency, and reduced suspensions,” Luten said. “We continue to work each day on further improvements.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education said she can’t comment on Thursday’s request because the investigation of Wake is ongoing.
In the 2010 complaint, youth justice advocates pointed to issues such as how the percentage of suspensions given to Wake’s black students exceeds their representation in the overall enrollment.
While Wake has reduced suspensions by 34 percent since 2010, activists point to how disparities still remain. Black students represent 24 percent of the enrollment but account for 63 percent of suspensions, 73 percent of referrals to juvenile court and 72 percent of high school students referred to adult criminal court.
Activists expressed frustration that there hasn’t been a resolution after more than six years. They’re also concerned that civil rights complaints won’t be investigated as aggressively after President-elect Donald Trump takes office this month.
“We recognize that with the shift in administration that’s coming up that we don’t know what the future is going to hold for the Department of Education,” said Letha Muhammad, leader of Education Justice Alliance. “This gives us a sense of urgency to get some resolution.”