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Published: Thursday, 2/26/2004

Feeding a perception

OVER the years the Toledo Federation of Teachers and its Lawrence family leadership have occasionally been criticized, rightly or wrongly, for racial insensitivities. Feeding that perception is President Francine Lawrence's letter to TFT members alleging falsely that Toledo Public Schools intended to create one hiring standard for black teachers and a second for Hispanics and whites.

Her remarks offended district officials as well as African-American parents and teachers. It implied that they would prefer a black incompetent to a white or Hispanic teacher.

In fact, most blacks, like anyone else, revere education, and they certainly don't want an incompetent in charge of their child's education.

Some teachers don't like the racial division her letter imposes on people who should be colleagues. A black teachers' association has called for Mrs. Lawrence to step down.

Today's bad feelings have historical roots. Not long ago TPS hired few teachers from outside Toledo because of a rule that full-time hires must have completed months of part-time work before being eligible for permanent posts. Who could afford to come to teach here with such uncertain encouragement?

Meanwhile, district enrollment grew more black, and the dearth of African-American teachers became detrimental to students.

For too long TFT didn't consider the consequences to quality education. But it did come up with the Toledo Plan. It is a singular effort to assure competence in new hires, and it has received deserved national attention and praise. Its success, however, doesn't put it beyond tweaking.

What spawned the union leader's outburst was an inquiry by TPS officials about a young teacher, part-time since 1997, whose excellent early evaluations were erased by recent negative comment.

Teachers where he taught wanted more time to help him, despite a 5-4 review board decision upholding an opinion that he not be hired. Black and male, he was liked in a school in which most youngsters were black and male and in need of a successful adult role model.

One final chance, perhaps with a different mentor to assure that hard feelings didn't cloud judgment?

It hardly passes as a double standard, even if the school board, the final arbiter, approves a remediation plan. Instead it ought to be a standard final step, open to anyone, when unusual circumstances make it appropriate.

Mrs. Lawrence's response damages the school district and the community. It suggests an inbred parochialism that is out of place.

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