Marilyn Williams, a retired teacher and Tampa activist, alleges that the Hillsborough County School District discriminates against black students by subjecting them to harsher penalties than white students. She also claims students in lower-income schools, which are predominantly black, are denied access to experienced teachers.
Frustration. Disappointment. Anger.
These words swing through Marilyn Williams' mind whenever she thinks about how black students are treated in the district.
That's why she filed the complaint.
After earning a master's degree in conflict resolution and teaching in different schools outside the state, Williams moved to Florida in 1999. She spent a few years working with the local NAACP, which she said allowed her to gather the information necessary to challenge the system.
After a while, Williams started noticing small things. Black children who had to earn a teacher's trust. Counselors who weren't as patient. An increase in school resource officers and violent incidents.
Then she looked at the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores in Hillsborough County broken down by race. And she was astounded.
In 2013, 37 percent of black students in the third grade scored at or above the minimum achievement level for reading. That number dropped to 34 percent for eighth-graders and 29 percent for 10th-graders.
"Unless one is willing to accept the belief that black students are intellectually inferior ... then one must question why the district has consistently had poor academic performance outcomes for black students," Williams wrote in her complaint.
Williams also included a report from the Advancement Project that suggested harsh policies disproportionately affect students of color. For example, black students comprised 21 percent of the Hillsborough County school population but accounted for 50 percent of out-of-school suspensions during the 2011-12 school year.
"That kind of blew my mind," Williams said.
Here's the update on that investigation as of February:
A special task force commissioned by Hillsborough County schools is working to address disparities in minority discipline, an issue currently being investigated by the federal Office of Civil Rights.
The Office of Civil Rights launched an investigation last year after a complaint was filed alleging that the district disciplines black and Hispanic males more harshly than their white peers for the same offenses.
District spokesman Steve Hegarty said the district recognizes there are disparities, and is working to try and reduce the gap. The task force that met on Friday is currently reviewing school policies and procedures to make sure they are implemented fairly across racial lines.
MaryEllen Elia will take over as NYSED commissioner in July.