Arundel school board reaches settlement in federal civil rights complaint

Academic goals raised for minority students

August 18, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school board yesterday agreed to raise academic goals for minority, low-income and special-education students, settling a federal civil rights complaint filed last year by a group of black community leaders who alleged that African-American children were treated inequitably.

County school officials expect to consider revisions next month to the school system's 2007 goals for academic achievement to reflect the agreement, which will affect future budgets and resources.

Carl O. Snowden, a black community leader who signed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, praised yesterday's agreement. He noted that the complaint had been filed on the 50th anniversary of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education desegregation case.

"This is the 21st-century version of Brown," said Snowden, an aide to County Executive Janet S. Owens.

Schools Superintendent Eric J. Smith, who served on the mediation team, also called the agreement "historic."

"This is received in an air of sincere deep cooperation and expectation of improved opportunity for children in Anne Arundel County," Smith told board members yesterday.

The complaint, which was filed against Smith and the school board by a group that included the Anne Arundel chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, pointed to disparities in academic achievement for black students compared with white students. It also contended that African-Americans were overrepresented in special-education classes and received a disproportionate number of suspensions and expulsions. Seven board members voted unanimously in favor of the agreement, reached through months of mediation with the U.S. Department of Justice.

School board members had approved Smith's goals for academic achievement, a safe environment and collaboration with the community after he was hired in 2002. His performance bonuses and extension of his contract were tied to meeting these targets.

Those goals set testing benchmarks to improve the performance of all students and minimize differences in achievement among all groups.

One of Smith's goals was that "achievement of groups based on race, gender, and socioeconomic status will vary no more than 10 percentage points from the highest performing group on each measured standard."

The goal adopted yesterday will require all students to reach the same level of achievement. "It does not allow for excuses to be made as to why one group is not performing at the same rate as all groups," Snowden said.

Board member Paul G. Rudolph of Severna Park emphasized that although the agreement directly refers to achievement of African-Americans, the revised goal will affect students in all eight categories defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, including race, special education and income levels.

"Everybody will reach the goals that have been set forth," Rudolph said.

School officials and those who signed the complaint refused to release copies of the agreement yesterday because it had not yet been signed. It also addresses special education, discipline, dropout rates and programs for advanced students, Snowden said.

Smith said black students, particularly in the Annapolis feeder system, have achieved gains in reading, math and other areas, making the new goals attainable. One-third of the incoming class of the rigorous International Baccalaureate students at Old Mill High School are African-American, he said.

Smith said that the agreement will affect the way that the county school system structures its budget and analyzes data.

"We have proven now in Anne Arundel County that [the goal] can be achieved," Smith said.

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