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Lawsuit on behalf of Pinellas' black students in limbo with school district

A class-action lawsuit resurrected against the Pinellas County School Board for shortchanging the county's black students appears to be stuck in limbo.

Lawyers representing Concerned Organization for Quality Education for Black Students, or COQEBS, shared at a meeting Wednesday that a hearing scheduled for last week was canceled and deemed unnecessary. A judge told both parties, the group and the district, to make one more attempt at formal mediation before state intervention.

The lawsuit, filed in 2000, alleged the district was violating the state Constitution by depriving black students of their right to a high quality education. COQEBS took over as the plaintiff in 2010 just before the case was settled that same year. The settlement agreement obligated the district to furnish information and provide updates on its efforts to help black students.

COQEBS is seeking intervention for a more effective solution to mend the achievement gap. One of the group's top complaints is the district hasn't been forthcoming in providing timely data regarding the progress of black students in the district.

At Wednesday's meeting, the group's lawyer, Guy Burns, said the district asked the group to prioritize 11 questions. The district's top request was the total pass rate per school on the FCAT standardized test since Spring 2009.

"We’ve been frustrated and we also have tried to get info so we can track progress and ask questions that are meaningful about what we’re doing about this issue and that issue," Burns said after the meeting. "That data has been like pulling teeth with them."

The district's lawyer, David Koperski, said the data appeared to be much more complex than expected and asked to hold a meeting with COQEBS to provide more context to the situation.

"What we don't want to do is send a thumb drive of data without any context," Koperski said.

The groups will head into one informal meeting to discuss a settlement. If no settlement is reached, the groups will head into a formal mediation with a third-party moderator. No meetings have been scheduled so far.

In the meantime, COQEBS will ask a judge to compel the district to answer the group's questions.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 5, 2016 3:20pm]


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