Attorneys for the Community Justice Project at the University of St. Thomas filed a complaint last week with federal civil rights officials that accuses a Minneapolis school of routinely violating the rights of special education students.
The complaint states that Minneapolis Public Schools' Harrison Education Center fails to provide adequate instruction to its students and segregates them from the district's students who don't have disabilities. The complaint requests a federal investigation.
Harrison currently serves high school students with severe emotional and behavioral disorders. The vast majority of students who attend the school are black.
The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, recounts the story of a 16-year-old boy who was sent to Harrison after he was involved in a fight. Upon enrolling at Harrison, the boy, "J.G" observed frequent fights and said little was taught in the classroom.
"He also states that students are constantly disciplined with suspensions, both in-school and out of school," the complaint states. "Though Harrison punishes its students for minor infractions, J.G remembers a staff member hypocritically and openly recounted his drinking stories with a minor students."
District officials said Thursday they had not received official notice of the complaint from federal justice officials.
"Our standard procedure when receiving complaints is to respond swiftly and cooperate thoroughly with the inquiring agency," said Rachel Hicks, a district spokeswoman.
The district is currently considering making significant changes at Harrison, which has long been accused of being dumping ground for troubled students.
Those changes include "excessing" all of the school's teachers and other staff members and allowing them to reapply for newly redesigned positions. The process is known as a "fresh start" and has been used in the past with some of the district's struggling schools. The board is expected to take up the issue at is April meeting.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, director of the Community Justice Project and co-founder of Black Advocates for Education, said the district needs to made "drastic" changes at Harrison or consider closing it.
"Minor tweaks are not going to get it," she said.
Levy-Pounds urged the district to take a hard look at its special education referrals as many of the students who end up at Harrison - students like J.G. - don't deserve to be there.
"I am glad they are considering a fresh start process but they are going to have to really dig deep to make sure what they come up with is not a Band Aid solution," she said.