District blames clerk error for discipline undercount; Lancaster officials say they’ll correct problem

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 31A

The Lancaster school district underreported the number of students it disciplined last year to the Texas Education Agency because of clerical errors, Superintendent Billy Ward said Tuesday.

“We certainly were not trying to hide anything or misrepresent anything,” he said. “We will fix the problem.”

The discrepancy was discovered when officials from the TEA were investigating complaints of racial bias in the district’s handling of disciplinary problems, Dr. Ward said.

In September, two students came to school with shotguns in their vehicles and were suspended for five days. Some community members and a district trustee said that because the students are white and one is the son of a school board member, the suspensions were shorter than they should have been.

The TEA investigation concluded that district policies were not followed in determining the length of the student suspensions, though it did not find evidence of racial discrimination. The Lancaster board is appealing the findings.

Dr. Ward said expulsions came up during the review.

TEA officials “asked me how many students we had expelled, and they said we had reported a different number,” Dr. Ward said.

School districts are required to report any student suspension or expulsion to the TEA. Agency records indicated that fewer than five students were reported suspended or expelled by the district in the 1999-2000 school year. The district reported 21 for the 1998-99 school year.

Dr. Ward said the number for last year should have been about 30.

“We had a new attendance clerk who was miscoding expelled students” when they were reported to the TEA, he said, making it appear the students had been sent to a district alternative center.

TEA spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe said the district will soon receive a letter outlining the agency’s concerns about the reporting of disciplinary problems.

“We need to be able to trust the accuracy of that data,” she said.