Equal Educational Opportunity for Hispanic Students in the Oklahoma City Public Schools
As early as September 1997, the Oklahoma Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights began discussing the serious issue of student suspensions and educational equity in the Oklahoma City public schools (OCPS) and its effect on the Hispanic community. In addition, at an Advisory Committee meeting the Latino Community Development Agency observed that Hispanic students in OCPS appear to be a target of the district’s policy to exempt students from taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) given every spring. With respect to suspension of students, the Advisory Committee took note of a statement from the Children’s Defense Fund that:
the great majority of suspensions do not serve any demonstrated valid interest of children or schools. Instead, they harm the children involved, and jeopardize the prospects for securing a decent education. Suspension pushes children and their problems into the street, thereby causing more problems for them and for the rest of us. . . . Finally, suspensions are not necessary, except in a small minority of cases, to maintain order. . . .
The fund pointed out further that "discriminatory attitudes and habits once apparent in blatantly dual school systems now simply reflect themselves in the so-called ‘second generation’ desegregation problems involving discriminatory discipline tracking and special education placement."
No More Excuses, the final report of the Hispanic Dropout Project, a study of Hispanic education, documented 3 years of research and field hearings on the dropout crisis. Some of the key findings in the study were:
The economic and social consequences of high dropout rates for Hispanic communities are significant and warrant national attention.
Many Hispanic students dropout due to such school-related factors as crumbling, overcrowded, and unsafe schools; lack of teachers with appropriate training and language abilities; lowered academic expectations; and unresponsive school bureaucracies that discourage parental participation.
At roughly one-third, the Hispanic dropout rate is higher than any other major segment of the American population.
Hispanic students are often concentrated in areas with fewer educational resources (uncertified teachers, college-preparatory classes, computer access).
According to Advisory Committee members, the alleged high rate of student suspensions and dropouts appears to be a national crisis that justified a review of the Oklahoma City public schools’ student discipline policy.
On September 29, 1998, the Oklahoma Advisory Committee met in Oklahoma City to conduct a community forum on equal educational opportunity for Hispanic students in the Oklahoma City public schools. The purpose of the forum was to collect information on selected educational issues, including education equity affecting Hispanic students in the public schools of Oklahoma City. The Committee also reviewed information provided by forum participants on the effect of the school district’s discipline policy on student suspensions and dropout rates of Hispanics. Further, the Committee also received information on ITBS exemptions and the training of bilingual assistants. The forum presenters included university professors, a State legislator, students, parents, agency officials, and school district personnel.
According to the school district’s annual report, the district is a model urban school district and is an integral part of the community. Its students are self-confident and ready to compete in a global society. It has highly motivated, professionally competent employees who work together with parents and the community to provide innovative and effective education programs. Its mission is to educate students for life-learning and responsible living. A few of the 1997–2002 goals for the school district are:
To have all students read at their appropriate level.
To provide students in every classroom with an equal opportunity to learn, to be critical thinkers, technologically literate, and effective communicators.
To provide safe, clean, well-maintained buildings and grounds with adequate space for educational needs.
The school district, in an attempt to maintain order and structure for student behavior, published the following discipline information in the student handbook:
Suspended students are not allowed to return to the campus of the school from which they were suspended, another district school or attend extra-curricular activities sponsored by the OCPS until the expiration of their suspension. Any student in violation of this policy is subject to arrest for trespassing and/or additional days of suspension.
School administrators are responsible for ensuring that students’ due process rights are not violated. Administrators will furnish written notice of the alleged charges to the student and his/her parent(s). The notice will provide an explanation of the charge and a discussion of the evidence regarding the charge. The notice will also provide a meeting date to give the student an opportunity to present.
 Memorandum to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from the Latino Community Development Agency, May 26, 1997.
 Children’s Defense Fund, School Suspensions: Are They Helping Children? (Washington, DC: Children Defense Fund, 1975), p. 9. See also the Iowa Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, A Statement on School Suspensions in Selected Iowa’s School Districts, February 1980.
 Ibid. No More Excuses, the Hispanic Dropout Project, February 1998. This project was commissioned by U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley on Sept. 18, 1995.
 Oklahoma SAC minutes.
 Transcript of the Oklahoma Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, community forum, Oklahoma City, OK, Sept. 29, 1998, p. 6.
 Ibid., p. 10.
 Oklahoma City Public Schools, Statistical Profile 1996–97, Management Information Services, September 1997, p. 2.
 Student and Parent Handbook, Oklahoma City Public Schools, 1997–98, p. 20.