South Bend district moves toward racial compliance

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — New data shows South Bend Community School Corp. no longer disproportionately labels black students with emotional and cognitive disabilities.

But the district has again been cited by the state for suspending and expelling black special education students at disproportionate rates last school year compared with special education students of other races.

The school system was cited for noncompliance in all three categories for the 2011-2012 school year.

Oletha Jones, education chair of the South Bend branch of the NAACP, said she's heartened by the progress the district is making, but she'd like to see the school administration communicate more frequently and in more depth with the public on the issues.

"They haven't been aggressive at keeping the community informed of the steps they've taken and what's working," Jones told the South Bend Tribune (http://bit.ly/1nEBqOg ).

When asked what the district did to move into compliance, Donna Krol, director of special education for South Bend schools, pointed to adjustments to procedures for identifying students. Before black students were identified with either an emotional or cognitive disability, a second special education staff member was required to review each case.

As a penalty for the previous citations, the school district had to report monthly the number of black students newly labeled with an emotional or cognitive disability. That requirement ceased this school year, but Kristin Harges, supervisor of psychological and compliance services, with South Bend schools, said "spot checking" is still being done of those students' cases.

Additionally, staff members involved in student assessment now take into account the severity, intensity and frequency of problems students have, Krol said.

When it comes to the suspension and expulsion of black special education students, the school district was again cited for disproportionality.

Suspension data for all students in South Bend schools, shows that while African-Americans make up 34 percent of the district's enrollment, they accounted for 62 percent of the students who received in-school suspensions last school year and 64 percent of those who were suspended outside of school.

Jones, with the NAACP, said, while there is still much work for the schools and the community to do, she hopes the recent positive changes in South Bend aren't the result of "quick fixes."

Only time, she said, will tell if the root causes of the disproportionalities for black students -- unconscious bias, for one -- are truly being addressed by the district.

In the meantime, Jones said, "there needs to be continued community oversight and complete transparency" on the part of the school administration, including the new office of African-American student/parent services, and the school board.

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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