BPS under federal investigation for racial discrimination

March 18, 2011
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Redesign and Reinvest plan under fire

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The federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) decided last month to investigate claims of racial discrimination against the Boston Public Schools (BPS).

The Boston Bar Association’s Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts filed the claims with the OCR after the Boston School Committee voted to approve BPS Superintendent Carol Johnson’s Redesign and Reinvest plan, which recommended the closure of nine schools, including the Agassiz School in JP.

In a letter to the Lawyers Committee, the OCR acknowledges allegations that “the Plan continues the [BPS] District’s historical pattern of targeting Black communities for school closures, mergers and other disruptions.”

The two groups allege that the schools slated for closure serve “predominately Black, Latino or immigrant communities, while schools serving high percentages of White students…remain unaffected.”

In a statement, Johnson said, “the schools slated for closure were selected because they are among the lowest chosen by families, have been struggling academically, or are in facilities that are not up to par…We are expanding choices in higher-performing schools and turning around underperforming schools in the very communities in question. We would be doing a great disservice to continue to serve young people in these schools when we have better options available.”

The two groups also allege “the district does not have clearly articulated plans to accommodate the programmatic needs of English learners and/or Special Education students currently assigned to the Agassiz…thereby disregarding the rights of these students to appropriate educational programs.”

The two groups further allege that the charter schools that might gain control of some of the closed buildings would be less likely to enroll blacks and Latinos than BPS schools, that Black and Latino students will be moved to facilities that “have not passed high school accreditation standards,” among others.

“Frankly, it would be more appropriate for us to be questioned of wrongdoing had we chosen to maintain the status quo,” Johnson said in that statement. “We look forward to working with the Office of Civil Rights as it conducts this inquiry, and as we move ahead in our plan to accelerate achievement for all students.”

No plans have been made for the buildings, and none will be made until they are empty, after the current school year ends, Lee McGuire, chief communications officer at BPS told the Gazette.

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