Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Federal complaint filed over Gwinnett school shifts.

NOTE: While not taking place within Milton, we thought the following story might be of interest to readers due to the redistricting topic.
By D. Aileen Dodd

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Parents who allege that new attendance zones for Gwinnett County Schools unfairly target low income and minority students for redistricting have taken their complaint to a bigger stage.

Two complaints were filed with the federal Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging that Gwinnett Schools is discriminating against the kids by rerouting them to campuses with fewer resources and more students from lower income homes.

About 505 students will move to empty seats in Duluth schools in August. The school board approved the moves last week, saying they will relieve overcrowding.

“The Board of Education and its planning department selected a group of minority children of low socio-economic status to move from a more affluent school district to an already overburdened one under the guise of saying they were trying to reduce overcrowding,” said Lynne Sycamore, a Duluth mom who is among a handful of parents who filed the complaints.

“Most of the children they selected came out of Mason Elementary, which is already under capacity,”
she said.

Nearly half of the affected students -- 241 -- are being moved from Mason Elementary, which is under capacity by 13. Peachtree Ridge High, a school of 3,226 that is over capacity by 426, will lose 158 teens. Hull Middle School, which has 2,409 students, is over capacity by 659 and will lose 106 students.

Gwinnett Schools’ spokeswoman Sloan Roach said the district has not been notified of the complaint.

Students are redistricted based on population figures, said school board member Mary Kay Murphy.

“We don’t use socio-economics,” she said. “Our core belief as a school system is that all students can learn at or above grade level. We would not have received the Broad Prize for closing the achievement gap if we weren’t serving all populations.”
Roach said the district also considers enrollment forecasts, student transportation and school locations.

Sycamore said Census data shows that families near Gwinnett Place Mall whose kids were rezoned were mostly minorities.

“That whole area is primarily minority children of Hispanic descent who are low income,” said Sycamore, who has two daughters from Guatemala. “I don’t think it’s right to pocket everybody into one place.”Sycamore’s complaint asks for the lines to be redrawn.

The Office for Civil Rights will first determine if it has jurisdiction, said Jim Bradshaw, a U.S. Department of Education spokesman. “If a district is found to be in non-compliance with our civil rights laws, then we work with the district to help it come into compliance . . . In virtually all cases, we’re able to work with districts short of moving to enforcement. “

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