Arundel school board appears close to settlement on civil rights complaint

August 04, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school board is apparently close to a settlement with a group of black community leaders who filed a federal civil rights complaint last year alleging a systemic bias against the county's African-American students.

At a meeting yesterday, several black community leaders urged the school board to approve an agreement brokered by the U.S. Department of Justice that aims for equity for children of all races.

"With your `yes' vote, you will be saying you support efforts to provide quality education for all Anne Arundel County students," said John Wilson, executive director of RESPECT Inc., a coalition of black groups.

School board members huddled behind closed doors yesterday to consider the document. Schools Superintendent Eric J. Smith said early yesterday evening they support the concept but suggested some changes.

"It's reflective of the African-American community's strong interest in improving educational opportunities and achievement levels of children and partnerships with the board," said Smith. Board members hope to approve the pact this month.

Carlesa R. Finney, a former school board president who signed the complaint, said: "I feel very good about what appears to be a very positive conversation among board members."

The complaint was filed against Smith and the school board in May 2004, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation case. It alleges that the county's black students often were placed in special-education classes and served a disproportionate share of suspensions and expulsions. The complaint also pointed to the low academic performance of black students compared to others in the county.

Representatives of the school system and the groups began meeting to develop a settlement in December.

The agreement could lead to modification of the school system's 2007 goals to close the gap between groups of county students, Smith said.

In other business, school board member Michael G. Leahy of Severna Park said the board would soon take action on an audit of the school system's human resources department.

The 48-page report raises questions about items such as missing background checks for some employees and how compensation was set for some staffers not represented by unions who were recruited to the school system.

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