Florida Race-Based Standards Prompt Complaint

Florida education officials are being challenged on their plan to evaluate Latino and black students based on much lower math and reading achievement goals than those set for white and Asian students.

Educators have long advocated for judging students based on growth, rather than a set cut score. A significant achievement gap still persists. But does that mean standards should be set lower for black and Hispanic children as a result?

When the standards were approved last October, a Florida Department of Education spokesperson said that officials felt they needed to take into account the groups’ “starting point.” The goals are set to go into effect in the 2013-14 school year.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday against the state’s race-based plan.

“The research is clear: Low expectations result in low achievement,” said Jerri Katzerman, SPLC deputy legal director, in a news release. “By setting lower expectations for black and Hispanic students, Florida is telling these students that it is their skin color – not their hard work and perseverance – that will determine their success in school. This plan will only widen the achievement gap in Florida classrooms.”

In reading, the passing goals set by 2018 are 74 percent for black students, 81 percent for Hispanic students, 88 percent for white students and 90 percent for Asian students. In math, the goals are 74 percent for black students, 80 percent for Hispanic students, 86 percent for white students and 92 percent for Asian students.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that one of the parties to the complaint, 14-year-old Robert Burns, who is black and has excelled on state exams, believes the goals should be 100 percent for all students.

“If you expect 60, I’ll give you 60. If you shoot for the moon, I’ll land on the stars,” he told the newspaper. “I’m more than what statistics or Florida thinks of me. When I found out they were going to set lower standards for me based on the color of my skin, I felt devastated. I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s right.”

The 100 percent proficiency goal cited by Robert has been viewed as the hallmark of No Child Left Behind. Indeed , the complaint cites former President George W. Bush’s now famous quote condemning the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

However, Florida has performed well on performance standards with its Hispanic students. For example, an evaluation of student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that Florida students were strong-performers, when compared with students from other large states.

Additionally, a report from the National Center for Education Statistics also recently found that the Latino high school graduation rate was about 72 percent in Florida in 2010.

Related Links:

– “SPLC Files Complaint WIth DOJ Over Florida’s Race-Based Education Goals,” Orlando Sentinel.

– “Florida’s Race-Based Education Goals Discriminate, Complaint Alleges,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

– “Civil Rights Complaint Lodged Against Florida’s Student Achievement Plan,” Southern Poverty Law Center. 

– “Florida Sets Lower Achievement Goals for Latinos Than White Students,” Latino Ed Beat.

Report Alleges Discrimination Against ELLs in Louisiana

The Southern Poverty Law Center broadened its federal complaint against the Jefferson Parish Public School System in Louisiana regarding the district’s treatment of Latino immigrant families this week.

The SPLC alleges that the school district is inadequately serving its students who are English Language Learners. The newest charges come after the organization alleged in a complaint last August that Spanish-speaking Hispanic parents were not being provided proper translation services.

The Times-Picayune reports the SPLC alleges that the school system has only 81 ESL-certified teachers serving 3,300 ELLs. The complaint also says that ELL students are exited from ESL services based on their speaking ability and not their writing and reading skills–setting them up for failure in mainstream classes.

In addition, the report is critical of the district clustering ESL educators at certain schools.

“Because of the improper allocation of resources, the ESL program in JPPSS is understaffed,” the report states. “There are not enough ESL-certified teachers to properly carry out the ESL curriculum and effectively teach ELL students English so that they can succeed in school.”

The complaint also details the experiences of specific students: a high school sophomore who reported that teachers felt bilingual paraprofessionals were a distraction to their teaching, so asked them not to help students until they were done teaching. Other students felt they struggled in math without language assistance.

The SPLC has repeatedly filed complaints against the school system with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education, having previously raised concerns about the district’s treatment of black students.

The newspaper reported that the district declined to comment on the newest complaint.

I wonder how common similar challenges are across the country–particularly in areas of the South that have not traditionally had substantial Latino, and immigrant, populations.

Related Links:

– “Report alleges Jefferson Parish schools discrimination against ESL students,” The Times-Picayune.

– SPLC new complaint text

– Southern Poverty Law Center Immigrant Justice

– “SPLC Files Civil Rights Complaint Against Louisiana District,” Latino Ed Beat.

DOJ to Investigate Alleged Discrimination in Louisiana Schools

The U.S. Department of Justice has announced that it will investigate claims of mistreatment of Latino students in the Jefferson Parish Public Schools in Louisiana. The move comes on the heels of a complaint filed in August by the Southern Poverty Law Center, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The center has alleged that the district did not offer adequate translation services to Spanish-speaking parents and that district administrators did nothing to stop the bullying of Hispanic students. The center also alleges that Hispanic students were told they could not graduate without proof of Social Security numbers.

Since the initial complaint was filed, the district began offering Spanish language courses to principals and encouraged hiring bilingual teachers.

About 17 percent of the district’s 46,000 students are Hispanic. The law center has also previously filed complaints against the district for its treatment of black students and special education students.

The SPLC has also previously filed similar complaints against the Wake County Public Schools and Durham Public Schools in North Carolina.

Related Links:

-“Department of Justice to further investigate discrimination claims in Jefferson Parish Schools.” New Orleans Times-Picayune. 

– “SPLC files civil rights complaint against Louisiana District.” Latino Ed Beat.

Southern Poverty Law Center.

SPLC Files Civil Rights Complaint Against Louisiana District

With Latino populations burgeoning in the South, the Southern Poverty Law Center has started filing complaints against school districts alleging discrimination against Latinos and Spanish-speaking families. The most recent action came this week, when the civil rights organization filed a federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education against the school system in Jefferson Parish, La. The complaint alleges that the district has not provided interpreters for Spanish-speaking parents. It is similar to complaints previously filed against the Wake County Public Schools and Durham Public Schools in North Carolina.

The issue is critical because Latinos have only recently become a growing population in the South, and school districts are dealing with new challenges as a result. For example, Latino students make up about 17 percent of the students in the Jefferson Parish school district, and limited English proficient students are about eight percent of the enrollment. In its complaint, the organization described how a 7-year-old boy in the Louisiana district had to interpret for his mother at a parent-teacher conference, but was ill-equipped to do so. The mother, who has two other children, no longer attends conferences or open houses because the district doesn’t make Spanish services available.

“Jefferson Parish public schools must end these discriminatory practices and recognize that these students have the same rights as English-speaking families,” said Jennifer Coco, a staff attorney for the SPLC’s Louisiana office, in a SPLC news release. “This is about ensuring every student in the district has an opportunity to succeed and that all parents have a meaningful opportunity to participate in their child’s education.”

The official complaint is on behalf of 16 Latino families, and also says that employees harass children about their citizenship status. The organization describes how a high school graduate was told she needed a social security number in order to graduate. Another student alleges a teacher called him a “wetback” during classes, but the employee was never disciplined.

District officials told the The Times-Picayune that they make English language learners a top priority and the population’s academic performance is improving. “JPPSS is committed to providing support for all parents with (limited English proficiency) regardless of their primary language,” school system spokeswoman Monica Pierre told the newspaper. Pierre added that policy manuals in Spanish are available to parents.

The SPLC has filed two other complaints this year against the school district for discriminatory actions against black students.

The Civil Rights Act requires that districts provide parents information that they can understand in their language. That information can include written and verbal information about discipline, special education services, events and conferences. They also want more bilingual parent liaisons.

The SPLC also is noted for tracking hate groups across the United States, many of which discriminate against Latinos. It also takes on immigrant justice issues, many of which arise in the South. The growth of Hispanic immigrants in the region has sparked tensions, leading to the passage of laws regarding immigration status in Alabama and Georgia. Courts recently blocked parts of the laws in both states.  The Justice Department also recently announced a new civil rights unit will open in Alabama that will address issues including immigrant rights.

Related Links:

– “SPLC fights discrimination in Jefferson Parish,La., public schools.” SPLC.

– “Jefferson Parish school system subject of third civil rights complaint this year.” The Times-Picayune.

– “Louisiana schools accused of discrimination, complaint says.” Fox News Latino.

North Carolina District Accused of Discriminating Against Spanish-Speaking Families

Two groups charge that the Wake County Public School System in North Carolina has violated the civil rights of Spanish-speaking parents by providing important notices regarding their children only in English.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Advocates for Children’s Services sent a letter of complaint on Tuesday to school superintendent Tony Tata, reports The News & Observer.

The groups say that three parents did not receive information in Spanish about suspensions and special-education. According to the groups, the parents also did not receive written notice about meetings related to the special education process, or information about their children’s Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Parents also were not given notices about long-term suspensions and information about how to appeal a decision or pursue alternative education programs, the groups say.

“Despite the presence of a large Spanish-speaking community in the district and the important rights at stake during the special education and discipline processes, WCPSS has failed to develop and implement a system by which written documents are routinely translated and provided to LEP (limited English proficient) parents,” the letter said.

The groups noted that Spanish-language information can increase parent involvement and improve students’ academic performance.

However, the school district’s web site includes a Spanish-language section that has information such as a back to school guide, along with pages about the schools’ before- and after-school programs and vaccine information. In a statement, the superintendent said that the district has been proactive in supporting the needs of Spanish-speaking families through community and media partners.

The  groups requested a number of changes, including that a Spanish-speaking employee be dedicated to work on discipline matters, that a web site be developed in Spanish and that parents are provided information about suspensions and special education in Spanish.

Latino students currently make up about 15  percent of the school system’s 146,000 students. In the district, there are about 11,040 (7.5 percent) classified as limited English proficient and 5,913 (4 percent) students participating in English as a second language courses.

The Southern Poverty Law Center also filed a civil rights complaint last year against the Durham Public Schools in North Carolina accusing the system of discriminating against English language learners and their parents.

The district eventually reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education pledging to make a number of changes, including making interpreters available to parents and creating a communication plan for Spanish-speaking parents.

It appears that the SPLC is on the lookout for districts that don’t appear to provide sufficient Spanish-language services. In your own district, are there interpreters on staff? Do your schools use bilingual staff to translate in person and in documents?

You can read the letter of complaint against Wake County here.

Durham Public Schools Reach Out to Latinos in Wake of Civil Rights Complaint

Almost a year ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights accusing the Durham Public Schools in North Carolina of discrimination against Latino and English language learner students and their parents.

The charges made by the Montgomery, Alabama, based civil rights organization were severe. In one example given, a high school teacher allegedly pushed a Hispanic student against the wall and told the student to “go back to your own country.” Another teacher was accused of using anti-Hispanic slurs. One district official was accused of asking a student for a passport and immigrant visa when the family tried to enroll.

The complaint also pointed to a larger problem with a lack of communication between the district and many Latino families: The district had only three Spanish interpreters, while more than 5,300 students spoke Spanish at home.

But now, The News & Observer reports that educators and community members are coming together to discuss how to better serve the district’s roughly 6,000 Hispanic students. A new Latino Parent Council helped arrange an event where teachers, principals and members of the Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods) group met to discuss how the district is serving its Hispanic students. The group also examined the need for more bilingual counselors, teachers and office staff.

“It’s recognizing that any kind of change really requires the input from the people who are doing the work with the kids,” said Durham CAN organizer Ivan Parra.

Some change is evident from the district’s web site, which promotes a partnership with the LaMega Radio Station for a Spanish-language monthly talk show where district officials will share information with Hispanic families. Families are welcome to call in with questions. There’s also a Spanish-language information section on the district’s web site home page.

Last November, the district reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to make several changes:

  • Make the anti-discrimination policy stronger;
  • Make sure that policies don’t discourage students who are undocumented immigrants from enrolling and that students are not asked about immigration status;
  • Distribute documents such as registration forms, field trip permission forms and requests for parent conferences (and letters to parents);
  • Develop a plan to ensure effective communication with limited-English parents;
  • Make interpreters available to help parents (a district spokesperson now says there are eight full-time interpreters).

Have you seen similar tensions or problems arise in your own communities? Here are the full changes that the district agreed to make.