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|City school system outlines plan to satisfy Justice Department concerns|
Monroe city school officials are developing a plan to address findings of a recent U.S. Justice Department report, which said there exists "disparity in course offerings" at Monroe City Schools.
At issue are 14 specific findings outlined in an April 1, 2008 letter from Allison Brown, a trial attorney with the Justice Department. Brown conducted a site survey of Monroe City Schools in March.
The Ouachita Citizen and KNOE TV-8 obtained a copy of the Justice Department report over the weekend. The Citizen first reported last week about the Justice Department's request that Monroe City Schools address disparity in course offerings at Carroll, Neville and Wossman high schools.
In her report to Monroe City Schools dated April 1, Brown informed school officials she found a number of disparities among courses offered at various city schools. Those disparities, according to the Justice Department report, placed minority students enrolled in the Monroe city school system at a disadvantage.
"There are disparities between the courses offered at the district's three high schools that, by appearances, are based on the racial composition of each high school," Brown wrote in an April letter to Monroe City School Board attorney Doug Lawrence.
Specifically, Brown pointed out students at Neville were offered more gifted and talented classes, more sections of honors courses and the opportunity to take Advanced Placement course for college credit.
Also, Brown said there was a racial divide among the schools in the number of students who took "dual-enrollment" courses at area universities.
Among other findings in the report, Brown determined several area elementary schools offered no gifted and talented programs for their students.
Lincoln, Carver, Clara Hall, Barkdull Faulk and Jefferson schools offered no gifted and talented classes to their students.
"On the other hand, however, Lexington Elementary, the only predominantly white school in the district, offers its students five gifted classes," Brown wrote.
Lexington's student population is 57 percent white, 38 percent black. The five elementary schools which do not offer gifted classes each top 97 percent black student populations.
Board attorney Lawrence drafted a response—date May 5—to the Justice Department's April 1 report.
In his response, Lawrence said advanced placement courses are open "to all students who desire to participate in these advanced courses." He said students must meet program prerequisites.
Lawrence also pointed out students who wish to participate in dual enrollment programs must meet the admissions standards for the programs. The admission standards are established by the University of Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana Delta Community College. Delta Community College and ULM are the two institutions of higher education in the area that work with Monroe City Schools in offering classes on the high school level for students who wish to earn college credits.
Lawrence's response also confirmed Brown's assessment of the disparity among TOPS qualified graduates from the three high schools.
In the 2006-07 school year, Carroll High School graduated 22 TOPS-eligible students while Wossman High School graduated none.
During that same period, Neville graduated some 58 students who were eligible to receive TOPS scholarships.
In addressing Brown's findings concerning gifted course offerings at elementary schools, Lawrence revealed a number of students at the schools tested for the programs and "began receiving gifted services."
However, Lawrence did not specify what those services entailed. Also, Lawrence did not indicate that those schools offered any dedicated gifted classes to qualified students.
Dr. James Dupree, superintendent of Monroe City Schools, said officials are moving swiftly to negotiate a new consent decree to correct Justice Department findings.
"I think we need to dedicate a person at Carroll and Wossman to that particular focus," Dupree said. "That will be one of the things we do—put a dedicated watchdog in place just like we do in gifted education."
Dupree also said counselors at underperforming Monroe schools would be instructed to steer qualified students to those advanced placement classes and the like by making students and parents aware of the advanced offerings.
Dupree said the city school system was not found to be out of compliance with two previous consent decrees, which date to the 1960s. He said the new decree seemed to be an effort to bring the system into "unitary status."
That means all schools within the city school system operate on by the same rules, with the same guidelines and offerings.
Dupree said it will be hard work for the schools. He is confident the school system will be successful in adhering to the Justice Department's concerns.
"There are several ways to get classes into those schools with low enrollment in the programs," Dupree said.
One possibility he offered was bringing in virtual classrooms to link students at different schools to larger, advanced learning environments. Another possible solution: transporting qualified students between schools.
Dupree also said the system is pursuing available funds to pay high testing fees associated with advanced placement classes.
"We'll make sure no kid is excluded from advanced placement testing because they can't afford it," Dupree said.
Tune in to KNOE TV-8 at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. tonight for a report on Monroe City Schools' efforts to satisfy concerns the U.S. Justice Depatment raised over "disparity in course offerings" in the city school system. Log on to www.knoe.com as well.