In June 2012, the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project of UCLA  filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR), against the Fall River Public Schools (FRPS). The complaint charged that the district's frequent use of out-of-school suspension disproportionately harms students of color and students with disabilities, violating the U.S. Department of Education's regulations interpreting Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

In December 2012, the OCR announced that it would follow up on this complaint and investigate out-of-school suspension practices.

The complaint cited OCR data from the 2009-2010 school year, which showed that FRPS suspended 25.9% of Black students, 23.1% of Latino students and 13.4% of White students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The complaint highlights unusually high rates in FRPS for all students, suggesting that the district's policies and practices around discipline are generally unsound, but harm some groups much more than others.

Among the most notable concerns is the exclusion of students with disabilities on disciplinary grounds. Specifically, FRPS suspended 23.8% of all students with disabilities. Suspension rates were even higher when race and disability overlapped. The district suspended over 42% of all Black students with disabilities and 50% or more of Black and Latino middle school students with disabilities.

UPDATE 9/25/2018:

More than six years after the initial report was filed, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) shared a determination letter concerning Fall River Public Schools. In its September 2018 letter, OCR notes that data reviewed for school years 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 showed disparate treatment of black and Hispanic high school students and students with disabilities. In September 2018, Fall River Public Schools adopted a new code of conduct.

The Center for Civil Rights Remedies is an initiative of the Civil Rights Project (CRP) at UCLA, which has been national in scope since its inception at Harvard Law School by Professors Christopher Edley Jr., and Gary Orfield. CRP brings high levels of research scholarship to bear on issues of racial injustice in education, and has filed amicus briefs in the past regarding funding inequity in Massachusetts. For more information, go to:

For more information about how the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights handles complaints, go to: Photo by SteveCof00


Matthew Segal (ACLU of Massachusetts); Dan Losen (Director, Center for Civil Rights Remedies The Civil Rights Project at UCLA)