- Rebecca Townsend
- Bri Simmons is fighting Speedway High School's effort to expel her son just a month shy of his graduation. At issue in this case, a school with a record of racial disparities in suspension and expulsions — and a question of to what degree a student checks his constitutional rights to protection and privacy when he arrives at school.
Black students at Speedway High School receive out-of-school suspensions at a rate of about four times their white counterparts.
While the matter has thus far raised no red flags in Speedway, racial disparities in school suspension and expulsion patterns are receiving heightened scrutiny nationwide following the joint release by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice of school discipline statistics.
Patterns of disparity not only exist, but they begin in pre-school, Attorney General Eric Holder noted upon the data's release.
- Source: U.S. Department of Education
- Speedway High School 2011-2012 school year enrollment.
- Source: U.S. Department of Education
- Speedway High School's 2011-2012 school year in-school suspensions.
The mothers of Randy Moore and Marquis Sherrod, two black students currently enmeshed in expulsion drama at Speedway, welcome the extra attention. They are concerned with what they perceive to be excessive severity with which Speedway High School administrators have handled their concerns with their sons. And, in the case of Bri Simmons, Randy's mom, she says the school had previously failed to protect her family when she voiced serious safety concerns — a situation that escalated until her daughter was attacked. The result? The school reportedly encouraged the daughter to withdraw (or face expulsion) while the white attackers were back roaming the halls within days. [More on that later.]
An Indianapolis Recorder analysis of the federal student discipline data for local district and charter schools found that Speedway Schools had among the highest disproportionality indexes, trailing only Carmel-Clay schools, Mt. Vernon School Corp. in Hancock County, Hamilton Southeastern and Franklin Township schools.
The Recorder's indexes begin to take shape when broken down further.
- Source: U.S. Department of Education
- Speedway High School's 2011-2012 school year in-school suspensions. Source: U.S. Department of Education
An estimated 75 black students attended Speedway High School in the 2011-2012 school year, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, but they made up 50 percent of total expulsions (two of four), 47.1 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 34.1 percent of in-school suspensions. Approximately 41 out-of-school suspensions were issued to black students, leading to an out-of-school suspension rate of about 55 percent. By comparison, white students, of which there were an estimated 312 attending the school, received 44 out-of-school expulsions for a rate of 14 percent. Bottom line: The rate for black students was about four times higher.
Also of note: When it came to enrollment in advanced math and science classes, black students at Speedway High were represented at a rate much lower than their percentage of population.
Troublesome pattern or just a stat?
When questioned about his district's disparity stats, Speedway Schools Superintendent Kenneth Hull said he was not aware of a problem.
"We collect that data annually," Hull told NUVO during a Friday phone call. "I'm not aware of an issue in that area, given our numbers and our size."
In respond to NUVO's questions, Hall reviewed the DOE data and agreed to a future interview on the matter.
When it comes to discipline, he said, each individual situation is decided not on race, "it's on the facts." And, though his hands were tied by privacy concerns and the district's desire not "to try the case in the press," Hull said he felt confident that all matters regarding the case will come out in "the process."
Randy is a senior at Speedway High School, currently on a 10-day, out-of-school suspension and facing expulsion.
A student cannot appeal a suspension, even though it can hobble a student's academic performance as it can mean being out of the class room for two weeks and receiving only 50 percent credit for any work that is completed.
If the principal thinks a violation is worthy of expulsion, the student is provided with an opportunity to participate in an independent expulsion hearing in which the parties involved state their respective cases. That decision is final. [The Speedway School is working to provide the percentage of recommended expulsions that are accepted and the number of families who opt to withdraw their children — an option that allows the student to re-enroll elsewhere while expulsion can leave them prohibited from re-enrolling in a district for up to a year.]
On April 18, school officials searched Moore's car and found a BB gun in the glove box, not because he had caused a scene or threatened anyone, but because of a tip the school received from the Speedway Police Department. A Speedway P.D. officer had pulled Randy over the day before for failing to give appropriate signal for a lane. According to Speedway Sergeant James Thiele, who recounted the scene for NUVO, because Randy's car was full of people, when another officer happened by (who happened to have a drug dog) came on the scene as backup, as part of "normal practice." The dog indicated that drugs may be present, but the search came up empty. They did find the BB gun — and noted that Randy only had a learner's permit, but let him go with a warning.
"With the heightened sensitivity we have regarding guns in schools, we wanted to make the school aware," Thiele said.
The school questioned Randy, he told them that he brought the gun for protection and had not told anyone at school that it was in his car. Still, the school handbook says a student could be expelled for "possessing, handling or transmitting ... any object that can reasonably be considered a weapon, is represented to be weapon or looks like a weapon." And school officials are throwing the book at Randy, recommending expulsion just a month before his graduation — after he has already been accepted to Ivy Tech.
Though Superintendent Hull would not discuss Moore's individual case, he did outline the process. "If the parties are still not satisfied with the outcome [following the expulsion hearing], then it can go to civil court," he said.
Meanwhile, Indiana's new law making it legal for people to bring guns on to school property will go into effect on July 1, not that it would do anything to help in Randy's case — after all, constitutional rights to privacy and self defense are often curtailed in favor of wider communal interests within a school setting.
Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, speaking in generalities, said he believed courts would uphold a school's right to search a student's car parked on its property — and he believes that many students do not understand that their Fourth Amendment rights are compromised in this way.
So Randy's case may not so much be a matter of his constitutional rights being trampled upon, Falk said, as it is a question of, "Why are we doing this? What is the purpose?"
In need of protection
Randy bought a BB gun because he lives in a scary world. His mom says a kid was shot in the parking lot of their townhome at International Village on High School Road, just north of 34th St., and the murder remains unsolved.
"The person that got shot and killed went to my school," Randy said. "I saw him every day."
When Randy gets home from his part-time job at the movie theatre Downtown, the parking lot is dark and empty. "No people, no light, no protection," Bri says. "Kids should have a right to protect themselves. I carry a golf club. I intend to use it of necessary. Tire irons are considered weapons ... baseball bats ... Why is Randy such a threat?"
Also, Randy and his mom tell of encounters with a crack head who is a serial stalker of the parking lot, getting up in people's faces trying to shake down her next fix.
"She's like 6', 2''," Bri said.
Then there is the case of her daughter, Randy's sister, Brooke Moore, who, her mother says, was taunted with racist name-calling and threats in the school parking lot, which continued despite her family's complaints. When the abuse turned physical, Brooke defended herself, which resulted in assault complaints filed from both sides, a case that was ultimately dropped, Bri explained because "they said it was too complicated." Bri said Speedway High School suggested withdrawing Brooke as a better alternative to expulsion. The white kids responsible for the attack, already back in school after serving a suspension, taunted Bri and her daughter from the hallway as they walked by the office while Bri was handling Brooke's withdraw.
In retrospect, Bri wishes she would have fought the school then. She feels like she let her daughter down and she refuses to repeat the pattern with her son.
"I refuse to let them run out another black kid," Simmons said. She is currently at home, grappling with fibromyalgia. When she began to become discouraged, he mother offered her a new perspective.
Simmons said, "My mother told me, 'You gotta look at it like this: You are the one with the know how, with the drive, with the time. You're not working. You have days where you can function – maybe not every day. You've been chosen to do this for everyone who can't. Things aren't going to change unless somebody says something.'
"It's time. My ancestors would be upset if I didn't put in at least half the effort they did."[Editor's note: This story will be updated with video interviews from Bri Simmons and Randy Moore, plus comments from Marquis Sherrod and his mother. Also, we anticipate receiving some more data from Speedway Schools on the number of expulsion hearings and their outcomes. Plus, additional comments from Superintendent Ken Hull regarding the disparity statistics. By the way, Randy loves to dance and load the videos to Youtube. Following is a sample ... ]