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Group working on behalf of black students seeks to reopen case against Pinellas schools

After 15 years of mediation, a St. Petersburg community group is seeking to resurrect a lawsuit against the Pinellas County School Board that claims it is failing black children.

The Concerned Organization for Quality Education of Black Students, or COQEBS, argues the board has not done enough to bridge the achievement gap between the county's black students and non-black students. The class-action case, Crowley vs. the Pinellas County School Board, will be discussed at 9:30 a.m. April 29 in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.

The lawsuit, filed in 2000, alleged the district was violating the state Constitution by depriving black students of their right to a decent education. COQEBS took over as the plaintiff in 2010 just before the case was settled that same year. That 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.

Ricardo Davis, president of the group, said COQEBS is fedup with not receiving transparent information from the district in a timely manner and with the lack of improvement in black students' standardized test scores.

"We have to kind of figure out what are the kinds of initiatives or solutions that can be implemented that are totally not under control of the district," Davis said. "We think the district is agreeing with us that they have not made progress on this central issue."

The group's lawyer, Guy Burns, said the court could send COQEBS and the district back to mediation, or the court could impose reporting requirements and performance benchmarks and force sanctions if the district fails to report information in a timely manner.

"It's mediation by fits and starts and no continuity and after 51/2 years we have to say this is not meaningful," Burns said. "Someone's going to have to hold (the district's) feet to the fire because they're not forthcoming."

Pinellas schools spokeswoman Lisa Wolf said the district does not comment on pending litigation.

The district is under investigation by the Florida Department for Education for how it spends federal funding on poor children and whether all students get equal access to good teachers. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor called for the review in the aftermath of the Tampa Bay Times' series "Failure Factories," which detailed the academic and behavioral struggles of five predominantly black elementary schools in southern St. Petersburg that are among the worst in the state.

The series documented how 84 percent of Pinellas' black elementary school students are failing state exams. Although Pinellas' graduation rate for black students jumped 3.9 percentage points in the past year from 60.7 to 64.6 — the largest bump in the bay area — the increase was smaller than those of other large districts. Pinellas' overall graduation rate in 2015 was 78.3 percent, and the state's was 77.8 percent.

Davis has asked district officials to present graduation statistics at the group's next meeting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave S in St. Petersburg.

Contact Colleen Wright at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright on Twitter.

Group working on behalf of black students seeks to reopen case against Pinellas schools 02/01/16 [Last modified: Monday, February 1, 2016 10:58pm]
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