Updated 1:15 p.m. October 2, 2017 with a response from Black Parents Workshop.
In response to an accusation that two African-American students were denied access to requested upper level course placements at Columbia High School, the South Orange-Maplewood School District responded that it has met students requests to be placed in Honors classes, despite the requests being made after the start of the school year.
In a letter sent to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Ficarra on Wednesday, September 27, counsel for the Black Parents Workshop stated, “[T]he organization has been made aware of two instances in which African American students at Colombia High School who have sought to be enrolled in Honors classes have been denied that opportunity.”
According to the district’s Access & Equity policy, adopted in 2015, “All elementary, middle school, and high school parents/guardians and children in the South Orange-Maplewood School District shall have access to, and the ability to choose between current and future educational programs in all academic subjects, and at all academic levels.” The Board of Education also amended the Academic Placement Policy to accept the guidance of the A&E policy.
A spokeswoman for the district said that the students requests have been accommodated, although they made the requests to to be placed in the Honors classes after the school year had started and schedules had been set.
“After the school year began, SOMA Black Parents Workshop brought to our attention instances of students requesting to move to Honors in specific courses. The original requests had not been accommodated, since CHS discourages schedule changes after classes begin,” wrote Suzanne Turner, SOMSD Director of Strategic Communication, in an email.
“These students began the year in the levels which they had requested. They asked to move up to Honors after the master schedule was finalized and classes had already begun. After revisiting their requests, we offered each student a spot in an Honors level section.”
Turner said that the requests for Honors classes had been met before Mr. Tarver’s letter was sent on Wednesday.
In response to a request from Village Green for further clarification, Turner wrote, “District procedures do not include a formal opportunity for students to request a higher level once classes are underway. Changes are occasionally made due to extenuating circumstances, but only if we have a seat available in the requested class at a time when the student can attend without missing required classes.”
The district has come under fire in the past through suits by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights “alleging that academic tracking and the frequent use of out-of-school suspension by the School District of South Orange and Maplewood violates the Department ofEducation’s regulations interpreting Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.” The district’s adoption the A&E policy has been discussed as part of its effort to close the achievement gap and meet the requirements of the settlement of the suits.
Walter Fields, Chairman of the Black Parents Workshop said that “we did not receive a direct response from the district pertaining to the letter sent by our legal counsel.” He sent the following response to the district to Village Green via email on October 2:
Read Mr. Tarver’s full letter below: