The U.S. Department of Education began a civil rights probe of Pinellas County Schools on Monday to investigate whether the school district systematically discriminates against Black students, WFLA-TV reports.
According to the site, the district received a compliance review notice regarding five failing elementary schools in St. Petersburg. The probe is taking a close look at whether the students at those schools have access to the foundational courses, programs, and extracurricular activities they need to succeed. The investigation could last at least six months.
Troubles in the school district drew national attention last fall. Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan described what was going on there as “education malpractice,” according to the Tampa Bay Times, which labeled the schools “failure factories” in its investigative report.
Duncan added, “What has happened to too many kids, for too long, is unacceptable. It’s heartbreaking. Part of me wants to cry. Part of me gets very, very angry.”
Meanwhile, the district says it’s taking steps to turn the schools around. Spokeswoman Lisa Wolf told WFLA-TV that graduation rates and enrollment in gifted classes are increasing for Black students.
“I think I would want to say to parents that we’re taking this issue very seriously and we feel we have a plan in place to address their concerns,” Wolf stated to the TV station.
According to WFLA-TV, district officials hired a “troubleshooter” to assist. School officials also said they are pairing the most at-need students with the district’s best qualified teachers. Also on the table for discussion are longer school days and up to $25,000 in bonuses for teachers who improve student performances.