IRSD denies allegations in discrimination lawsuit

Date Published: 
December 9, 2016

Accused of racial discrimination at George Washington Carver Academy, the Indian River School district submitted its official response on Dec. 5, denying all claims of intentional wrongdoing at the alternative school.

The IRSD was responding to a federal lawsuit filed on Sept. 30 by two IRSD families and the local Coalition for Education Reform, a nonprofit group whose mission is to “assist the school district with matters that affect the educational successes of all minority students and to help eliminate the achievement gap in underachieving students and to address other concerns.”

“This lawsuit seeks to put an end to a unlawful racial discrimination by Indian River SD at George Washington Carver Academy … a punitive dumping ground for African-American students,” the lawsuit states.

Although IRSD admitted to many of the facts put forward in the suit, they denied any larger intentional racial disparity.

Ultimately, IRSD’s response said, “The defendant acted in good faith and all decisions were made based upon legitimate consideration.”

The lawsuit alleged that IRSD discriminates against African-American children in three ways: removing them from mainstream schools in first place, keeping them at Carver instead of returning them to their original schools; and by their overall treatment at Carver.

Carver Academy is the IRSD’s alternative school focusing on K-12 students’ academic, behavioral and personal needs, hosting between 50 and 70 children at any given time.

“Placement at Carver Academy results from many disciplinary referrals, together with the unsuccessful implementation of interventions,” the IRSD stated in its response.

Yes, the district acknowledges, African-Americans sometimes make up more than 50 percent of Carver’s population, despite being less than 16 percent of the overall IRSD population. But the IRSD did not agree with the suit’s allegation that that figure is “disproportionate,” instead, merely suggesting that the numbers speak for themselves.

Yes, the IRSD agreed, some students remain at Carver for longer periods of time than originally prescribed, but the district disagreed with allegations that families are forced into approving such measures.

The IRSD also denied removing African-American children from mainstream schools “on flimsy pretexts, segregating them at Carver on arbitrary grounds and for arbitrary periods of time, and neglecting their educational needs, including learning disabilities support,” as the lawsuit alleges.

Both parties appear to view the same issues in disparate ways: Where the lawsuit alleges that IRSD issued arbitrary disciplinary referrals, making it impossible for students to leave, the district responded that some students continued to “engage in behavior resulting in disciplinary referrals.”

The district also suggested there’s more to the story than depicted in the suit in the case of a freshman sent to Carver’s short-term Character Academic & Motivational Program (“CAMP”), originally designed as an alternative to out-of-school suspension (OSS). Despite a positive middle school record, that was the student’s sixth high school disciplinary infraction, they said.

The IRSD denied that students aren’t being given the proper supports to help manage any “emotional disability” (formerly called an “emotional disturbance).

However, the IRSD acknowledged that Delaware Department of Education had raised a related issue during the 2015-2016 school year. The DOE said the IRSD “has been identified with disproportionate representation in the identification of African American/Black students with disabilities” including in the categories of “Emotional Disturbance,” “Mild Intellectual Disability” and “Learning Disability.”

The IRSD was also “identified as having a significant discrepancy between the rates of long-term suspensions and expulsions” for African-American children with disabilities, compared to those without disabilities.

Although the IRSD admitted that there are times when teachers have failed to consistently send all required coursework to CAMP, the district denied that an IR High School student failed a final exam because a teacher failed to send coursework to CAMP.

The IRSD also acknowledged that “students yell, scream, curse and walk out of classrooms … [but] at times, behaviors will persist as individualized support programs are implemented, pursuant to the student’s IEP.”

Claims that some teachers are racist were flatly denied. The IRSD acknowledged that some teachers are young Caucasian women but denied that teachers are “not trained or equipped to deal with the Carver students,” as the lawsuit alleged.

The IRSD is being represented by David Williams, James McMackin III and Allyson Britton DiRocco of the Morris James LLP law firm in Wilmington.