'60s integration case in final approval stage
CLEARWATER - The final piece of a 49-year-old racial integration case in Pinellas County schools could fall into place at today's school board meeting. Board members are set to approve the final agreement in a lawsuit from the 1960s that integrated Pinellas County schools. "Is it the beginning of the end? The final chapter? Yes and no," said Peggy O'Shea, Pinellas County School Board vice chairwoman. "We still have a lot of work to do." Bradley v. Pinellas County School Board was dismissed in 2000 after decades of efforts to increase equality in public school classrooms. But racial inequalities persisted in student achievement, and critics alleged that black students were disciplined more harshly than their white counterparts.The final court order created the District Monitoring and Advisory Committee, made up of school district leaders, teachers union members, parents and NAACP officials, to hold the school district accountable. The memorandum school board members will consider today is the last of five stemming from the Bradley case and details how the school board will help the monitoring and advisory committee do its job. But the case is far from closed, O'Shea said. "I think things are much better then they were, but no matter how much we close the gap it will be never-ending, in a way," she said. "The perfect example is black male graduation rates: They're still the largest group with the lowest graduation rates, and who knows why? There are still significant differences in success among students." In 2011, the most recent school year for which data is available, 65 percent of black students in Pinellas County were below grade level in reading, and 64 percent were below grade level in math, according to the state Department of Education. That same year, only 30 percent of white students were below grade level in reading and 27 percent in math. Although blacks are the largest minority group in the county, only 47 percent of black students graduated high school that year, O'Shea said. The memorandums of understanding the school district already has adopted deal with student discipline, achievement, assignment to programs and classes, and staff and faculty assignment. The recent documents outline how new members of the 14-member monitoring and advisory committee will be trained and requires the committee to meet with the school board every October for the next five years. Even though equality has greatly improved over the years, more can be done, said school board member Terry Krassner. "I think a lot of it is poverty," said Krassner, a former teacher and principal at a Title I school in St. Petersburg, where many students came from low-income households. "When I look at what my son had in my house, having mom as a teacher and books and technology, you have to equalize. I was in the school system for 35 years, and this is something the teachers live and breathe: making sure all students have equal footing." That can be tough, though, given the economic disparities that exist in Pinellas County. The school district was under federal court supervision until late 1999 to ensure that all students received an equal education, and court-ordered busing didn't formally end until August 2000. The equality issues that exist today are more economic than racial, but teachers will always need to be conscious of the messages they send their students, Krassner said. "The only solution is leadership and securing that teachers are connecting with children," she said. "If children genuinely know that you care, it makes a huge difference." Other items on today's school board agenda include: The school board meets at 10 a.m. at the School Administration Building, 301 Fourth St. S.W., Largo.
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