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Groups seek information on Manchester School District efforts to 'achieve equity'

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 23. 2017 9:40PM
Youth Organizer Abol Mashut speaks at a press conference at City Hall Plaza on Wednesday about a Freedom of Information Act request filed against the Manchester School District. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

The Rev. Eric Jackson of the Greater Manchester Branch of the NAACP speaks at a news conference at City Hall Plaza on Wednesday about a Freedom of Information Act request filed against the Manchester School District. Also pictured is Michelle Couture, right, of NEA New Hampshire and Youth Organizer Abol Mashut. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Civil rights groups and city educators have filed a Right-to-Know request seeking information from the Manchester School District on its efforts to “achieve equity” in Queen City schools.

Representatives from the Granite State Organizing Project, the National Education Association–New Hampshire, the Manchester Education Association, Young Organizers United and the Manchester Chapter of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) gathered on the steps outside Manchester City Hall Wednesday to discuss the Right-to-Know request, formally submitted to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas on Tuesday by Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire (ACLU-NH).

The request seeks information related to progress on the implementation of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) Resolution Agreement Work Plan, related to a resolution agreement city school officials signed with the federal Office of Civil Rights in 2014.

“The ACLU of New Hampshire is proud to stand here today to ask for transparency with respect to, if and how the Manchester School District is complying with the 2014 Resolution Agreement,” said Christina Gibson of the ACLU-NH. “The 2014 Resolution Agreement was a significant step towards addressing these disparities, but this agreement means little if the public, including Manchester students and families, are unaware in this agreement is being complied with and enforced.”

The 2014 agreement followed the release of a report by the OCR that found black, Latino and English-learning students were disproportionately under-enrolled in the district’s Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The 2014 report found that during the 2010-2011 school year, 26 of the 434 seats in AP courses were held by black or Latino students. Their enrollment in city high schools was 381 and 596, respectively.

A comprehensive audit of the district in 2013 also highlighted racial disparities, in particular the lack of nonwhite teachers and administrators.

The agreement outlined several goals for the district, ranging from hiring practices to student assignment policies. The agreement also includes regular performance reporting to the OCR and updates to the Manchester community.

Rev. Eric Jackson, president of the Greater Manchester NAACP, said his organization accepted an invitation from the school board to be a part of the process of responding to the OCR report because “we truly believe it takes a village to raise a child.”

“Sadly, the failure of the Manchester school district and school board to provide regular, meaningful updates on the progress and status of the resolution agreement makes it impossible to assist efforts or assess progress,” said Jackson. “We know that justice delayed is justice denied. We hope to get justice for all Manchester school children and the Manchester community with the information from this request.”

Manchester Education Association (MEA) President Sue Hannan said the city teachers’ union supports the Right-to-Know request, and called for more “transparent communication” with school district leaders.

“It is important that the citizens, including our students, know that we take equity seriously,” said Hannan. “Our students are speaking up about the inequities that they face each and every day and are asking all of us to assist them in creating an educational system that is fair and equitable for all.”

“Our work is to no longer be silent about what we hear and see, to stand up to oppression, in all the forms it can take,” said MEA Vice President Maxine Moseley. “We will not lower expectations for our students, but reflect on current practices and make the changes needed to support all students.”

Vargas said his office is working on putting together the information requested by the groups.

“We will comply with the request, and work to address any concerns,” said Vargas. “The Manchester School District is committed to improving access to higher learning opportunities for every student. The district has made progress in its ongoing efforts to implement the Office for Civil Rights agreement of 2014 and recognizes that there is more work to be done to achieve our shared goal of educational equity in Manchester.”

“I’m sure Dr. Vargas is going to respond, and get them what they need,” said Mayor Ted Gatsas.

“I don’t know why we wouldn’t. We’ve seen in schools there are AP courses that students that are English language learners are progressing through. I think it’s certainly something that should happen. I remember walking through those classes with Superintendent Tom Brennan, rest his soul, and there were students in English language learner classes that could have probably been in those AP courses.”

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