Academic goals raised for black students

School, community trying to end racial disparity

Accord resolves 2004 lawsuit

September 09, 2005|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,SUN STAFF

As the result of an agreement signed by Anne Arundel County school officials and community leaders Wednesday, black students in the county will be held to higher achievement goals in an effort to eliminate racial disparity in the district.

By signing the accord, school officials also have agreed to address other issues raised by black community leaders in a civil rights complaint filed last year.

But for Irma Holland, chairwoman of the committee that crafted the settlement, the most important components of the agreement are mandatory public forums and the creation of an advisory committee to the superintendent.

"I'm pleased that the African-American community will have a seat at the table to be able to see what goes on and to be able to lend suggestions and to go back to the community to share what goes on," she said. "The community needs to be informed to be active in the school system."

Board president Konrad Wayson agrees.

"This historic agreement is a good working relationship between the school system, the board and the African-American community to meet these goals that have been set, and that's what this is all about - collaboration and inclusiveness," he said.

Holland and other parents, residents and community groups, including the Anne Arundel chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, filed a federal discrimination complaint in May 2004 against Superintendent Eric J. Smith and the school board, citing an achievement gap between black and white students.

It also contended that black students were overrepresented in special-education classes and received a disproportionate number of suspensions and expulsions.

The six-page agreement, which was mediated by the Department of Justice, marks the resolution of that complaint.

In it, the board must adopt higher achievement goals for African-American students - the same goals that have already been in place for the district's students as a whole.

Before the agreement, one of the superintendent's goals allowed that performance of different subgroups of students could vary by as much as 10 percentage points from that of the highest-performing group.

That will no longer be the case for black students or any subgroup.

The agreement also mandates that black students in alternative schools meet the same academic goals, and calls for a reduction in the number of dropouts, though it does not give specific numbers or goals.

Other parts of the agreement also are less specific, requiring the district to "determine whether there are racial disparities in imposing disciplinary measures" and "determine whether there are disparities" in the identification of black students for special education.

But the agreement calls for a lot of documenting, tracking and reporting. And that information will be shared at the mandatory twice-annual public forums.

The board must try to meet the goals set forth in the agreement by June 2007, Wayson said.

"It's not going to be easy to achieve," he acknowledged. Wayson said the goals, which are systemwide, will be part of the goals for the new superintendent, who will replace Smith after his departure in November.

Smith took part in the mediation and attended every meeting, according to some participants.

Some who were involved in filing the original complaint have said they have some reservations about how his departure will affect the agreement, but that ultimately it is legally binding.

"Those of us who've been involved in it understand, and hope the school board understands, this process must go forward," Holland said. "There's nothing that should stand in the way of us helping our students achieve."

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