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Published: Tuesday, 10/26/2010

U.S. Education Dept. investigating TPS treatment of minorities

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The U.S. Department of Education confirmed Monday it's investigating whether Toledo Public Schools distributes its resources in a fair way to black students for career development and college preparation.

Several groups of parents, alleging discrimination against black students, filed a complaint early last year with the federal agency's Office for Civil Rights in Cleveland.

The parents say predominantly black Scott High School offers few college prep classes when compared to other "identifiably" white high schools, such as Start and Bowsher.

TPS officials deny any intentional or unintentional racial discrimination in how courses are offered and said curriculums are designed based on past history and current demand from students.

The Blade first reported the civil rights investigation on Saturday. The complaining groups held a press conference Monday to talk about their grievances.

They say Scott and Libbey high schools over the years have not provided students a fair chance to go on to college and to succeed in life.

They point out that many of the predominantly black high schools and feeder schools into them chronically underperform and are listed by the state, year-after-year, in "academic emergency," based on end-of-grade testing.

They say the fact that Libbey was closed this year instead of being rebuilt using a pool of state and local bond money proves the point that central city schools are not treated equitably.

At the news conference, the group members gave speeches and also distributed copies of a written tally of the numbers of honors, advanced placement, and college-level courses offered at each of TPS' high schools.

The tally claims Bowsher and Start high schools together offered nearly six times as many as Scott and Libbey high schools combined.

Jim Gault, interim chief academic officer, was out sick Monday, and the district said it could not immediately confirm the veracity of the numbers.

TPS spokesman Patty Mazur said at first glance some of the information did not seem correct.

TPS officials say Scott offers upper-level language and math courses and that guidance counselors push students to achieve and excel in either a college or career path.

The school also has three career-tech offerings, including cosmetology, that give students interested in careers a leg up, school officials say.

Bob Vasquez, president of the Toledo Board of Education, said three of the five school board members are black and pointed out that Eugene Sanders, superintendent from 2000 to 2006, is also black. He is currently superintendent in Cleveland.

Former Scott High basketball coach Ben Williams said the complaining parents spent years giving presentations to the Toledo Board of Education about their concerns, without action or feedback.

"It's a very depressing and dehumanizing experience to give a presentation," he said at the news conference. "You never see anyone taking notes."

He said parental dissatisfaction with central city schools and budget cuts this year that curtailed bus service and eliminated middle school and freshman sports have driven more families to choose charter, Catholic, and other private schools.

"We just opened both doors for them. Parents didn't have any choice," Mr. Williams said. He said the Catholic programs have been recruiting athletes from Toledo's central city public high schools.

Several of the larger Catholic Schools participate in the Ohio EdChoice voucher program, which provides a tuition voucher of $5,000 per student who transfers from poor-performing public schools on a special list compiled by the state, Mr. Williams pointed out. When a student leaves, TPS loses that state money.

About one-third of Central Catholic's 1,068 students are in the program this school year, the most of any school in Lucas County.

TPS officials acknowledge that deep budget cuts this year have pushed students into transferring to charter and private schools.

Enrollment is down more than 5 percent this school year, and the school board is pinning hopes on passage of a 7.8-mill levy Nov. 2 to close another budget hole projected at nearly $40 million for the next fiscal year.

The civil rights office notified TPS on Sept. 28 of the review and stressed in its letter that a review doesn't mean there are any violations.

It also notified the parents that filed the original complaint.

The office would not give details of the now month-old investigation.

But an Education Department spokesman said in an e-mail to The Blade Monday that the office was performing a "compliance review to assess whether [TPS] provides African-American students access to comparable resources and college and career ready curriculum. The case is under investigation."

The office is charged with investigating possible violations of five civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in schools.

If violations are found, the federal office would try to mediate a solution, which could include TPS retooling programs, shifting resources, or enacting other changes.

The office is authorized by Congress to do its work, and in extreme cases, the office brings in the U.S. Department of Justice.

Results of investigations are public record.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at:

ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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