James Collins, 17, had just arrived with a friend at a Clear Creek High School basketball game when an administrator told them they smelled of marijuana and asked a security officer to perform a field sobriety test, Collins said.
Now, despite taking a drug test several days later that turned up negative, Collins wakes up each morning and goes to school at the district’s disciplinary alternative education program school, counting down the days until he can go back to his friends and high school, he said.
This isn’t Collins’ first run-in with school administrators at his League City high school, and family members are now starting to wonder whether this might be racially motivated, they said.
“This has stopped my education,” Collins said. “Any other student would have dropped out, probably. This feels like racial profiling, and I feel like I need to take a stand.”
Clear Creek Independent School District officials, meanwhile, declined to comment about the specifics of Collins’ case, citing federal law prohibiting them from doing so.
“All disciplinary action is taken in accordance with the student code of conduct, taking into account the evidence and circumstances of each case,” said Elaina Polsen, spokeswoman for the district.
When looked at through a broader lens, Collins’ issues aren’t unusual. Black students are three times more likely than white students to be expelled or suspended, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection.
About 3.5 million students out of 49 million total enrolled in public schools were suspended during the 2011-12 school year, according to the data.
Of about 120,800 students without disabilities given a single out-of-school suspension in 2013-14, the most recently available year, African-American students accounted for almost 30 percent of them, or 35,768, according to federal data.
“The facts are in black and white for all to see,” said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of Advancement Project, a civil rights organization. “Racism is alive and well in our American school system and school policing and zero-tolerance policies condoned by schools should be re-examined, re-evaluated and repealed.
“This data clearly shows that black students are less safe, more restrained and pushed out of school more than other students.”
A quick glance at data for Clear Creek High School’s suspension data shows a comparable number of African-American and white students were placed into the district’s disciplinary program, 28 and 24 students respectively, according to Texas Education Agency data for the 2017-18 school year.
But African-American students account for a much smaller percent of the school’s population, about 263 people out of a total student body of about 2,348, or 11.2 percent, according to state data.
Meanwhile, about 48.6 percent of the student population, or 1,140 students, is white, according to state data.
Those ethnic distribution percentages are fairly in line with the district as a whole. About 46.1 percent of the district’s 42,008 students identify as white and 8.3 percent as African-American, according to state data.
Across the district, about 92 African-American students were placed in the disciplinary school compared to 188 Hispanic students and 210 white students during the 2017-18 school year, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Although Collins’ had run-ins with administration at Clear Creek High School before, matters took a serious turn in September, his mother, NyKisha Owens, said.
Owens received a call about Collins from school officials who, she said, gave conflicting information before eventually telling her he was being suspended in reference to a sexual harassment investigation, for which he would ultimately miss seven football games and spend 13 days in disciplinary school.
But the district attorney’s office never brought any charges, Owens argued.
“Although we understand there were no charges brought forward, the CCHS administration feels that through our investigation to date, the above behavior occurred,” Principal Jamey Majewski wrote to Owens in an Oct. 22 email.
After months of appeals, however, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Karen Engle eventually overturned Collins’ suspension and promised the family that the administration would not retaliate against him, Owens said.
Then, on Jan. 18, Collins attended the basketball game with a friend, Owens said. Shortly after arriving, an administrator told the two they smelled of marijuana and had a Galveston County Sheriff’s Office deputy perform a field sobriety test, consisting of standing on one leg and watching a finger, among other things, Collins said.
The school’s administration then placed Collins back at the disciplinary school for 30 days, despite the fact that a Jan. 26 drug test came back negative on an initial screening, Owens said.
This time Engle found in the school’s favor in a Feb. 12 ruling.
But Collins and his family are continuing the fight, Owens said.
“I just want to get back to school, focus on my grades and football and graduate,” Collins said.