NAACP rejects St. Paul school reorganization plan

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 9, 2011 - 10:48 PM

Local chapter says district's proposal might violate equal opportunity laws.

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Valeria Silva

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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St. Paul's NAACP chapter has come out against the school district's proposed 2014 strategic plan, saying it would resegregate schools and might violate state and federal equal opportunity laws.

The plan "should be rejected because it will predictably increase segregation in the schools by race and income, and maintain, if not exacerbate, the unacceptable educational results for students of color," said an NAACP statement, which was presented by the group's education task force and accepted by the executive committee. School district officials learned about it Wednesday.

The proposed 2014 plan, if approved, will end citywide transportation and eliminate a number of St. Paul's magnet school programs; both measures were the result of decades-long efforts to increase diversity in the district and close the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

In a statement, Superintendent Valeria Silva said: "I am disheartened by the NAACP's lack of support. ... I have personally met with members of the NAACP's education committee about the plan and we've discussed the urgency we all share about closing the achievement gap. I strongly believe that our plan, which is based on a year-long analysis of data and study of this District, will do just that."

Victoria Davis, the chair of St. Paul's NAACP education committee, said the group will look into filing a lawsuit against the district if the plan is passed.

"We had to fight and we succeeded in making sure there's room for our kids," Davis said. "When you don't have anybody fighting for you, people go back to their routine. And their routine is what they normally desire and that's to support some and not others."

With less than a week before the plan is to be voted on by the school board, the position pits the NAACP against school administrators, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and a group of African-American leaders and ministers who recently threw their support behind the plan.

The local NAACP chapter joins other civil rights organizations nationwide that have protested school districts for what they perceive as efforts to dismantle integration.

The 2014 plan divides the St. Paul district into six regions, all of which the district contends are already racially and socioeconomically diverse. Students would be provided transportation to their neighborhood school, their regional magnet school or any of the citywide magnet schools.

The district has not drawn specific neighborhood school boundaries yet, which will likely affect the makeup of a school's student body.

Jim Hilbert is the executive director of the Center for Negotiation and Justice at the William Mitchell College of Law. He wrote the NAACP's response to the plan, and said St. Paul is not and has never been diverse.

"St. Paul is one of the most segregated cities in the country," he said, citing research done by the Institute on Race and Poverty. "Anybody who says the housing patterns are racially and economically integrated needs to look at a map."

"It appears that [the NAACP] definition of desegregated is predominantly white. Our school district is 75 percent students of color," Silva said in her response.

"We believe their analysis is oversimplified and in some cases just plain wrong," she said.

Hilbert successfully led a 1995 lawsuit in Minneapolis against a plan that ended citywide transportation and sent kids to neighborhood schools. The settlement allowed students to transfer out of the district, and thousands did.

Since the St. Paul plan was introduced in January, Silva has lobbied community members for support in 40 meetings throughout the district. She says that the plan was written to close the achievement gap, cut spending and bring a potential $22 million in revenue over the next four years by attracting more students.

Tyrone Terrill is the chair of the African American Leadership Council, which supports the plan. He doesn't believe the plan will make schools more segregated, but said if it does he is willing to sacrifice diversity for student success.

"Children are failing at a notorious rate in our schools," he said. "We're giving something else a chance now. If I'm on the critical list and one medication doesn't work and they say they have something new, I'm going to try the new medicine. I'm already dying."

Daarel Burnette II• 651-735-1695

  • THE RESPONSE

    To read St. Paul Schools Superintendent Valeria Silva's response to the NAACP action, go to www.bit.ly/ifNfrM.

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