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|City schools under fire over course offerings|
The Monroe City School Board may be asked to approve a new consent decree before the end of the month to clear up concerns that students at Neville High School receive a more advanced education than students at two other high schools in the city.
City school board attorney Doug Lawrence discussed a memorandum at the board's Aug. 13 meeting, which outlined the school system's response to findings from a recent site survey conducted by the U.S. Justice Department.
Last year, a Justice Department official spent four days studying high school course offerings at city schools. The study found that students at Carroll and Wossman high schools did not have the same educational opportunities as students at Neville. The discrepancies centered on advanced credit college courses, gifted and talented classes and TOPS preparation courses. Those courses are offered at Neville. They also are offered at Carroll and Wossman but there has been little interest in those courses among students at Carroll and Wossman.
Also, the Justice Department cited a lack of counseling services for students at Carroll and Wossman, including counseling to encourage students to take courses to qualify for TOPS, Louisiana's free college tuition program.
The proposed consent decree to comply with Justice Department concerns would require that city schools ensure parity among course offerings at Carroll, Neville and Wossman high schools.
Also, school officials at Carroll and Wossman would be required to ensure students are advised about advanced course offerings and enrolled in those courses as well.
School board member Rodney McFarland said the new consent decree would give all city school system students the same educational opportunities.
"What the Justice Department is telling us to do is something we ought to have been doing all the time," McFarland said. "I'm pretty much in favor of everything in it."
According to Lawrence's memo, Justice Department officials discovered a disparity among advanced placement course offerings, college preparatory classes and TOPS-eligible graduation rates at city schools.
"Whatever one school has, all the schools should have," McFarland said. "Everybody should be equal and have the same types of programs."
Board member Vicki Krutzer agreed.
"What it says is the school board has not, in my opinion, assumed its responsibilities to oversee that these programs are being offered at those schools at a really quality level," Krutzer said.
If Monroe City Schools had complied with earlier decrees, Krutzer said the new findings would not have become an issue.
"It is addressing the mandates that we agreed to but that we have not followed through with," Krutzer said. "I think this is going to cost us a tremendous amount of money."
Monroe City Superintendent of Schools James Dupree offered a different take on the decree.
"We were already doing a lot of those things," Dupree said. "It's just that we weren't doing it to the magnitude."
Dupree challenged the assertion that the system was not in compliance with previous agreements with the Justice Department.
"We just weren't looking at those programs that way," Dupree said. "Now that they've focused in on them, we're saying, 'wow, yeah, we need to look at them in that particular way.'"
Dupree said the city school system was never in danger of failing to comply with existing consent decrees.
"Were we out of compliance by not doing that?" Dupree said. "No we weren't out of compliance."
The Monroe city school system is no stranger to consent decrees.
The school system is still dealing with two decrees dating to the 1960s. One of them deals with desegregation.