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Published: Saturday, 10/23/2010

Agency to review TPS' treatment of minorities

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A federal agency charged with enforcing civil rights law in public education plans to conduct a special review of Toledo Public Schools and how it treats minority students.

The federal agency would not comment Friday, and it's unclear what, if anything, has prompted the civil rights audit.

TPS officials say they received a “generic” letter from the Office for Civil Rights in Cleveland and assumed TPS was simply a random selection.

But a group of Toledo parents who also received word of the review say a civil rights complaint they filed last year alleging discrimination against black students sparked the review.

Superintendent Jerome Pecko said he gave the letter to the district's lawyer.

TPS said there doesn't appear to be any sign that any sort of review is under way.

Two local groups have called a press conference and community meeting for 10 a.m. Monday to talk about the review and allegations they filed with the agency last year.

They say students at largely black Scott High School and the schools that feed into it are denied the same educational opportunities as students at other schools with fewer black students. They say teachers should be replaced and that there are fewer college prep and advanced placement-level courses.

Scott High and its feeder schools are among the district's worst performers on end-of-grade tests.

“There are few college prep courses at Scott where at other schools, there are myriad courses,” said Twila Page, a member of the Toledo-based African-American Parents' Association.

TPS denies the charges and says the high school has upper-level language and math courses and that guidance counselors push students to achieve and choose either a college or career path.

Jim Gault, interim chief academic officer, said courses are selected for each school based on student demand.

“If we had a large demand for AP calculus at Scott, [we would offer it]. A child [currently] can take Spanish all four years,” he said. “There are higher-level classes.”

He said that the guidance counselors don't wait for students to decide they want to take upper-level classes. “They are constantly trying to get kids involved.”

The high school operates under the small school system, offering the Allied Health Academy and the Scott Business Technology Industry Academy tracks.

Students choose one or the other and also take regular high school classes along with specialized courses.

Mr. Pecko said he and others are reviewing whether Scott, when it opens its new building next year, should once again become a traditional, comprehensive high school. He said that research and possible changes for Scott have nothing to do with any civil rights complaints filed with the federal government.

Mr. Pecko said he gave the Office of Civil Rights letter to the district's lawyer and said he had not heard about the previous complaint from parents about Scott High.

“That's what happens when the whole leadership of the district walks out; this one is new to us,” he said.

In just the past few months, TPS has hired a superintendent, business manager, and an interim chief academic officer. It also lost and has not replaced the superintendent's chief of staff.

Mr. Pecko emphasized that the letter does not allege any violations. It says: “… at this time OCR has reached no conclusions as to whether a violation of any federal law exists.”

Ben Williams, former Scott High basketball coach and an official with the Concerned Citizen Group in Support of African American Students, said Scott's poor academic performance merited the complaint.

“We feel our school has fallen to the lowest level,” he said. “We are asking for all the staff to be pink-slipped and then rehired” on a case-by-case basis. He said that the discrimination has crept in slowly. “You've got to eradicate what you're doing. It's shameful.”

The group made these allegations and others in a complaint filed in May, 2009, with the Cleveland branch of the Office for Civil Rights, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education.

Several parents met with investigators in June, 2009, and laid out their issues and complaints.

In an October, 2009, letter, the Office of Civil Rights told parents it would investigate two, and possibly three, of the nine allegations the group made.

But the parents say it took nearly a year for the agency to respond. Late last month, the agency contacted TPS to say it would perform a “compliance review.”

The office is charged with enforcing five civil rights laws as they relate to any organization that receives federal education funding.

Contact Christopher D.Kirkpatrick at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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