District agrees to changes after parents’ complaints

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The District Parent Coordinating Council (DPCC) says they have prevailed in their civil rights complaint against the Buffalo School District.

The DPCC alleges the district maintained a two-tier education system where non-white students were excluded from admission and enrollment in top-performing schools, in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Based on parents’ complaints, the Office of Civil Rights launched an investigation. Parents cited evidence that seven of eight admissions and enrollment policies were racially discriminatory. On June 26th the district was allowed to enter into an agreement to remedy the civil rights violations alleged by parents.

The Buffalo public school system “is committed to identifying barriers in application processes for criteria-based schools,” said Dr. Will Keresztes, the district’s Chief of Student Support.

At City Honors, one of the Buffalo’s top schools, the enrollment is 65 percent white, 35 percent minority. In the last school year, 38 percent of white applicants were accepted, compared to 26 percent Hispanic, and 18 percent black.

Applicants to City Honors must measure-up in six areas, including cognitive ability, math, English, prior grades, attendance, and teacher recommendations.

The students at the school come from all different socio-economic backgrounds. One-third are under the poverty line. Another third are children from working class families, with the remaining third coming from well-to-do families. There are hundreds of students on the waiting list.

In the past, a cross section of City Honors parents have expressed concerns that educational standards at the school may drop if admission criteria changes.

However, Sam Radford, President of the DPCC, which backed the federal complaints, said “We’re not interested in fights with other parents. We’re not interested in parents who think their children are better than other children. This is really about all children.”

Radford says this agreement will trigger sweeping changes in the district. The district must remedy the practices that exclude non-white students and take steps to improve the outcomes of elementary and middle school students, so they are eligible to be successfully enrolled in the highest-performing schools. In addition, Radford says the agreement will mandate the district to raise the educational levels of all students in the city who want to attend City Honors, so they meet the admission standards.

The district must retain a consultant with expertise in addressing the under representation of minority students. The district has agreed to: address the admission and enrollment rates, review and assess barriers to increased applications to criteria-based schools, develop a plan for academic counseling services at all schools, and develop specific remedies for the children of parents who filed the complaint.

Radford believes the district’s willingness to seek a voluntary resolution with the federal government will trigger sweeping changes by the 2015 school year.

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