Thursday, November 19, 2009

Racism imposed from the bench

School Board told to hire black educators

A federal judge ordered the Tangipahoa Parish School Board this week to hire qualified black applicants for administrative positions until 40 percent of these positions are held by black educators, court records show. The order, signed by U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle on Tuesday and filed into the online electronic court records on Thursday, is the latest development in the decades-long desegregation lawsuit, Joyce Marie Moore v. the Tangipahoa Parish School Board.

“I think (the judge is) letting the superintendent and the School Board know he is very serious about this,” said Patricia Morris, president of the parish chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “The orders are meant to be complied with and haven’t been.”

The School Board’s violation of a court order from 1975 establishing a 40-60, black-to-white ratio for School Board staff was among the major reasons the Tangipahoa NAACP branch pushed to reactivate the suit two years ago, Morris said. “If they were doing what they were supposed to be doing the whole time, we wouldn’t be here,” Morris said.

Tuesday’s ruling from Lemelle is his second focused on the hiring practices of the School Board. Last year, Lemelle ordered the School Board to hire a black coach who had been passed over for a job opening at Amite High School.

The judge also has yet to rule on the overall plan to desegregate the school system’s 33 schools after three months of hearings this summer and a hearing in August where attorneys presented closing arguments.

Lemelle called a closed-door meeting with attorneys on Tuesday to seek a consent decree for the parishwide desegregation plan, but no further action has been taken about the plan, court records show.

The School Board’s version of the desegregation plan presented to the court would require $200 million in taxes that need voter approval. The election can’t be held until a consent decree is signed or the judge issues a ruling.

On the hiring practices, both the School Board and plaintiffs’ attorneys filed suggested criteria for hiring administrators, such as principals and central office administrators. Lemelle signed an order that says he grants the plaintiff’s criteria and denies the School Board’s. The order further states that the attorneys in the case or the court-appointed compliance officer for the school system can ask the judge in writing to review this order at least twice a year.

According to the hiring criteria developed by plaintiff’s attorney, Nelson Taylor, the School Board must follow the following hiring criteria:

-- The School Board shall hire qualified black applicants for these positions until 40 percent of them are held by black educators.

-- Besides advertising in other venues, all open positions shall be advertised by postings at each school, and the superintendent must send written notice of these openings to qualified black applicants.

-- If the superintendent does not recommend a black applicant for a position, he must submit written reasons to a committee made up of the chief desegregation plan implementation officer, director of personnel and minority recruitment officer.

-- This committee then may interview the rejected applicant and decide whether to recommend that person to the School Board anyway.

-- If the superintendent disagrees with the committee’s recommendation, he can submit written reasons to the court-appointed compliance officer.

-- If the superintendent and compliance officer can’t agree on the applicant’s qualifications, they can petition the court for a resolution. In the meantime, no hiring decision can be made.

The School Board likely will mull over the question of whether to ask the court to reconsider the hiring-criteria decision, said Charles Patin Jr., attorney for the School Board. “We would obviously prefer the procedures we filed,” Patin said. “We will probably ask for reconsideration.”

When asked if Lemelle’s orders require that the School Board hire black educators until 40 percent of administrative positions are held by black people, Patin replied: “That’s not exactly correct.”

Patin explained his answer by emphasizing the superintendent’s ability to petition the compliance officer and court in disagreements over an applicant’s qualifications.

The School Board’s suggested hiring criteria say that black applicants would be given preference, but the most- qualified applicant would be hired, court records show. The School Board’s version also would have prevented objections on an individual basis and instead conduct twice-yearly reviews over whether the people hired help the school system become more racially diverse.


Big Brother quiz for new school parents: British officials launch 83-point probe into families' lives

Parents of five-year-olds starting school have been sent an 83-point questionnaire that probes personal details of their lives. It asks whether their children tell lies or bully others, and if they steal at home or from shops. Parents are questioned over whether they have friends, if they can speak freely with others in their family and how well they did at school themselves. The form also delves into family routines, questioning whether they eat takeaways and if the children drink water with their meals.

Thousands of families in Lincolnshire were sent the forms as part of trials of a 'Healthy Child Programme' being developed in Whitehall. The Department of Health wants all families in England and Wales to fill in similar forms. The information will be held indefinitely on NHS databases for the use of health workers. Planners want new forms submitted each year to build up a detailed picture of the family and their children's development. Children themselves will fill in questionnaires when they become old enough.

The aim is to 'enhance children's life chances' but critics warned of unprecedented intrusion into family life and the growth of a major new state database. Parents have been told the information is 'confidential' but it will be available to health workers who will decide whether families should be approached by health visitors offering 'support'. [In Britain "support" often means taking your kids away] It will also be used to identify districts with widespread health and social problems so officials can plan and target health campaigns.

There is no legal compulsion to fill in the School Entry Wellbeing Review forms, but parents who do not are likely to be visited by community nurses charged with identifying vulnerable families. [i.e. your kids might be taken off you]

Dylan Sharpe of the Big Brother Watch pressure group said: 'This is incredibly intrusive and asks questions which, quite frankly, Lincolnshire Community Health Services do not need to know and have no right knowing. 'Even worse, the NHS Trust has failed to make it clear that this is a voluntary questionnaire. I would advise any parent receiving this to stick it straight in the bin.'

Jill Kirby of the centre-right think tank Centre for Policy Studies said: 'This is badly wrong for a number of reasons. 'Parents are not told how the information will be used, nor that they can refuse to give it and it will create worry and suspicion among many families. 'It risks labelling children and families as problem cases when the aim should be to help children escape from difficult backgrounds. It will make families wary and those most in need of help are likely to retreat from it.'

Joy Wood, clinical team leader at Lincolnshire Community Health Services, said shorter questionnaires had been sent in previous years. This year's trial was intended to help identify vulnerable children. She said: 'The intention is that the children that need our services will be supported [i.e. taken away]. We are not keeping this information to be divulged to third parties.'

After a complaint from a parent, letters are being sent out making it clear that filling in the form is voluntary. The Department of Health said last night: 'Many local areas currently administer a questionnaire to parents as the basis for a review at school entry. 'The Healthy Child Programme includes the commitment to build on good practice to make available a standardised, evaluated version. 'We will ensure this complies with legal requirements in relation to data handling and approaches to encourage take-up. 'This questionnaire will be an additional tool to safeguard and support all children's health and wellbeing.'


British Council forced to apologise for prosecuting parents of boy who suffered 'school phobia'

Education chiefs who prosecuted a teenager's parents for allowing him to play truant have been forced to apologise after the boy claimed he had 'school phobia'. The youngster missed months of lessons after becoming anxious about returning to his Suffolk secondary school following a viral illness. The boy said staff made sarcastic remarks when he tried to attend classes, with one saying 'on a chair' when he asked where he should sit.

The teenager's failure to regularly attend prompted his school in conjunction with Suffolk County Council to take his parents to court for condoning truancy. They could have been landed with a jail term or £2,500 fine. But magistrates dismissed the case and now a tribunal has ruled the council discriminated against the boy in launching the prosecution. They said education bosses failed to take proper account of the boy's mental health.

But the council today said it was 'disappointed' by the ruling and may appeal. It has been ordered to write to each of the parents and the boy apologising 'unreservedly' for its treatment of him.

Head teachers' leaders have previously warned that school phobia could be used as a 'classic excuse' for not attending lessons. 'You have to get to the root of the pupils' problem - it may be their relationship with teachers, bullying or just that they haven't settled in,' said David Hart, former general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. 'Transferring the child to another school could be the solution. But school phobia is just an excuse for failure to attend.'

But the boy's parents insisted the school and council failed to understand his mental health problems and failed to properly cater for his needs. His problems began when he developed chronic anxiety after taking time off due to a virus soon after joining the east Suffolk secondary school. The teenager was diagnosed by a clinical psychologist as suffering from school phobia, a condition described as an irrational fear of going to school. It is increasingly cited by psychologists and is said to affect one to two per cent of the school population.

The youngster, now 16, would often refuse to leave the house and suffer panic attacks which would result in him rocking backward and forward and clutching his knuckles. It also led to him distancing himself from friends and social situations. His GP had told magistrates: 'He found that attending school was highly anxiety-provoking and when he attempted to attend school he found he had great difficulty with that. 'I think attending school full-time certainly caused him significant psychological problems.'

At a one-day trial in June at South East Suffolk magistrates court, the council said the boy missed 59 per cent of registration sessions over a given time period. But the court cleared the parents of allowing their son to play truant.

At the same time, the parents took the council and school to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal for unlawfully discriminating against their son by failing to acknowledge his mental health problems. The tribunal found in their favour, prompting the boy's father to declare: 'We are very pleased with the outcome and very pleased that an external body has come to the same conclusion as we have all along. 'All the people that we have come across, whether that be barristers, solicitors or doctors, they all said the same thing, that this prosecution is wrong and should not be happening.

'The judge and her colleagues listened very carefully and came to the same conclusion that we thought they would, which was that the prosecution should not have happened and if people had been better informed and better trained to understand mental health they would not have kept pushing down the line that they did.' He added: 'The decision means it will benefit other children tremendously in the long run. 'My only want is that my son grows into the person that he would have been by now if it was not for the prosecution. The whole thing has held us all back.'

In addition to letters of apology, the council has been ordered to send key officials for training on the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The parents should invited to observe this training, the tribunal said.

Adrian Orr, a senior adviser at Suffolk's Children and Young People's Services, said: 'Both Suffolk County Council and the governing body of the school have now received the decision of the tribunal and are studying it carefully. 'We are disappointed by the decision and are currently taking legal advice on whether or not there are grounds for appeal.'


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