Consultant Documents Racial Disparities in SOMSD, BOE Asks ‘What’s Next?’

by The Village Green
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South Orange-Maplewood schools see students of color underrepresented in higher-level classes, and overrepresented in disciplinary numbers.

Such were the preliminary findings from Sage Consultants, presented to the Board of Education on Monday night. Sage Consultant Thelma Ramsey further told the Board of Education that school personnel don’t mirror the school population in terms of race.

Read Ramsay’s full presentation here.

The Board of Education hired Sage Consultants in partial settlement of a discrimination case brought by the ACLU. The Monday report had been expected in July.

Board members reacted with dismay to the findings, but generally without surprise.  Madhu Pai said, “I understand this and these numbers are familiar.  What are our next steps?”

Ramsey suggested, among other strategies, that the district increase recruitment and retention efforts for staff members of color.  Board member Johanna Wright applauded this effort, and asked James Memoli, former Acting Superintendent, to describe previous years’ initiatives. He explained that the district holds a hiring fair and attends hiring fairs to see qualified candidates of color.

Ramsey also recommended a district “action plan” that would detail specific changes ahead. She also asked the district to better broadcast opportunities for AP and Honors courses. She suggested going into the community, “to churches, to the DeHart Center” to inform parents.

When pressed by Pai to discuss why the disparities exist, Ramsey replied that one reason students of color are underrepresented in upper-level classes is that “white parents are able to hire tutors” to support their children. She recommended considering ways to support other students who need similar one-on-one.

Discipline data suggest a very different experience for white students and students of color, with the latter suspended far more often. “We have to take that very seriously,” said Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad.

Ramsay noted that data was, at times, limited and gives an incomplete picture. Some data, she said, was at the central office, while other information is kept on file at schools.  She suggested that the district focus on efficient data collection in the coming year.

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