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April 10. 2014 11:02PM

Manchester schools told to increase minority AP enrollment

MANCHESTER — The school district will implement a plan to increase the number of minority students in advanced high school courses under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Education.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced the agreement on Thursday, capping a federal review that began in 2011. A report released by the agency found that black, Latino and English-learning students were disproportionately under-enrolled in the district's Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

"It is crucial that opportunities that help students prepare for college and career are open to all students regardless of race or national origin," Catherine Lhamon, the DOE's assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement. "I appreciate Manchester Public Schools' willingness to take on President Obama's challenge to increase our nation's students' college participation by working to improve this college-preparatory access for all of its students and to increase the readiness of its students to take advantage of these opportunities when they arrive at high school."

Under the settlement, the district has agreed to improve "communication and outreach about the benefits and availability of these opportunities to students and parents," and to monitor the progress of the minority students. Implementation of the policies will be overseen by the federal civil rights office.

Superintendent Debra Livingston, who assumed the post after the review began, said she recognized the need to reach out to students who have been underrepresented in college-track courses.

"It's about making sure every student understands how they can get into AP courses or 'Running Start,' and language should not be a barrier," she said. "It's our obligation to help students. Maybe a Spanish speaker just came into the country, and they have an outstanding educational background. We don't to want to keep them out of courses because they're learning English."The DOE report found that during the 2010-2011 school year, 26 out of the 434 seats in AP courses were held by black or Latino students, even though their enrollment in city high schools was 381 and 596, respectively. State data for that year shows that the district was 8.1 percent black and 13.4 percent Latino; the DOE report indicates blacks held 4 percent of AP seats and Latinos held 2 percent of the seats. Livingston said the DOE review was initiated in April of 2011, as part of a periodic compliance review. "They felt there were things we could improve on," she said.

In its report, the DOE stated that the review was conducted under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Prior to the announcement Thursday, the DOE investigation had not been publicly discussed at the school board meetings or by the superintendent.

The school board is expected to discuss the settlement agreement at its meeting Monday.

The issue of racial disparities in the school district has been a sensitive one. In August of 2012, local members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission appeared at a school board meeting to assail the district for policies that they charged effectively amounted to the segregation of English-learning students. Mayor Ted Gatsas at the time rejected the allegations and asked the commission to leave.

Rogers Johnson, one of the local leaders of the civil rights commission, said he would take a wait-and-see approach regarding the district's response to the DOE settlement.

"We'll see," he said. "It won't take long to figure out if they're doing what they say they're going to do. If they don't do this, it only gets worse for the city, which means they're going to have larger penalties, both financial — and criminal, if nothing gets done."

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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