Maplewood Schools / Kids South Orange

In Response to Letter, District Says Requests by African-American Students for Honors Placement Are Being Met

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:

“The South Orange-Maplewood School District has again shown its insincerity and intent toward African-American students in its response to the letter sent by our legal counsel regarding academic placement, and access and equity. The excuse that the course schedule has been ‘set,’ in their defense for initially refusing students’ request to level-up to higher level courses in September reveals the district’s hypocrisy. If the schedule is indeed ‘set,’ students should be similarly restricted in leveling-down. The district has allowed the Guidance Department to put in place a policy that contradicts the district’s Access and Equity, and Academic Placement policies; as well as the intent of the OCR Resolution Agreement, and prevailing federal and state laws. We have grown tired of the excuses this district puts forth on the issue of equity, and we are no longer going to entertain such excuses. It appears that this issue, and several others, can only be resolved in a court of law; so our energies are now directed towards giving Black students and their families, and Black alumni of Columbia High School their day in court. It is our intent to hold this district accountable, and any individual in a governance or policy making role who assists in the denial of the rights of Black children to an equal educational opportunity in accordance with our federal and state constitutions.”

Read Mr. Tarver’s full letter below:

Download (PDF, 104KB)

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