Breakthrough in legal dispute over black students in Pinellas
To boost black student achievement, the Pinellas school district will keep better tabs on performance, offer more specific strategies and interventions, and strengthen lines of accountability, according to a memorandum of understanding between the district and plaintiffs in a long-running legal dispute.
The district also promises to spend more money.
The agreement, signed June 26, is the latest development in the still-simmering legal fight over integration of Pinellas schools. And it’s the first sign of progress since January 2006, when mediation began over allegations that the district was not following through on an August 2000 settlement agreement.
"It’s significant,” said Watson Haynes, co-chairman of a community group that is advising the plaintiffs’ lawyers. “We really haven’t had the school system, as long as we’ve had this court order, really finally say we’re going to do what’s right by black students.”
“It’s a good beginning,” said School Board member Mary Brown.
The memo is not an admission that either side violated the settlement; nor does it end the mediation. But if approved by the School Board and U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday, it could change how much attention and help black students get in Pinellas schools.
The memo requires every school’s improvement plan to detail the achievement gap between black and white students; to spell out instructional strategies that will narrow it; and to identify which school-based officials will be responsible for making the changes.
It also says the district will “equitably” spend money to improve black student achievement, which “shall mean that certain schools and programs will receive proportionately higher funding than other schools or programs based upon needs demonstrated through verifiable data.”
The memorandum is a spinoff of Bradley vs. the Pinellas County School Board. Lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, concerned about stagnant black student achievement, pushed for mediation in January 2006.
The memorandum was signed by superintendent Julie Janssen, School Board general counsel Jim Robinson and two attorneys for the plaintiffs, Enrique Escarraz III and Roger Plata. It must still be approved by the School Board, which is expected to discuss it at a workshop Thursday, and by Judge Merryday, whose 2000 order formally ended the Bradley case.
Ron Matus, state education reporter