Tuesday, August 25, 2015


The South Orange Maplewood school district suffers from racial disparity in staffing, academic promotion and discipline, according to a consultant's report released Monday, which also noted that "black students are suspended at a higher rate than white students at the high school."

The Board of Education hired Sage Consultants last February as part of its settlement of a racial discrimination case brought by the ACLU, which claimed that there was a disparity in black student promotion and discipline.

Sage, paid $78,500 to conduct the review, found a slew of problems ranging from the racial make up of staff to a "clear disparity of race in higher level classes" in math and language arts that starts in middle school.

In a lengthy presentation to the school board on Monday night, Sage Consultant Thelma Ramsey tallied the problems with the district's racial approach to discipline and advancement.

Among the findings:

* The instructional staff does not mirror the racial make-up of the schools.

* There is a clear disparity of placement by race in higher level classes in Math and Language Arts beginning  at the middle school.

* The findings show it makes it very difficult for a black student to move to honors level courses.

* There appears to be within school segregation, it is possible that a white student or black student could (in the core classes) not see a student of another race.

* The discipline data supports the ACLU findings that black students are suspended at a higher rate than white students at the high school.

The report also laments the difficulty in getting data from the district, stating, "the limited use of data and accessibility of data makes it difficult to make programmatic or instructional decisions, this includes academic and discipline data."

Among the reports recommendations were to: develop a school manual that clearly states how to access higher level courses; increase recruitment and retention efforts for staff members of color; and develop a districtwide "action plan" to address instructional practices at all school levels. It also urged that more efforts be made to inform all students about AP and Honors courses and let them "sample" such classes.

Board response was critical.

"We have to take that very seriously," Board Member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad said about the discipline differential. 

Board Member Johanna Wright said the blame should be spread to all administration and board members: "None of us are exempt." Added Board Member Elizabeth Baker, "I, too, am very troubled by the picture this data represents."

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