Thursday, June 25, 2009

NAACP challenges Forsyth, Gwinnett school transfers

NAACP challenges Forsyth, Gwinnett school transfers
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The president of the Georgia NAACP said Wednesday he will challenge the state Board of Education’s decision to let Forsyth and Gwinnett county schools bypass the new school choice law.
The BOE unanimously approved the districts’ requests for the waivers, freeing them from the mandates of HB 251, a new law intended to give parents the power to cross neighborhood lines and pick their children’s schools.
Neither school system sought public comment immediately before their boards voted to ask for the waivers.
“This opens the door to unfair treatment and discrimination against the disadvantaged — in most cases, minority students,” said Ed DuBose, state NAACP president. “We want to explore legal options. We won’t just allow this decision to go forward without challenging it.”
The school choice law, which goes into effect July 1, requires that most campuses open the door to all students if there is room to accommodate them. Students get to stay at their new schools until they complete their education.
Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, however, will be able to continue handling transfers their way. Forsyth gives top priority to teachers, who get to pick their own kids’ schools as a perk. Gwinnett can refuse transfer requests for discipline, attendance and other factors.
“I am just devastated,” said parent Junice Barr of Lawrenceville, who was counting on the school choice law to keep her 9-year-old in her preferred school, which is overcrowded. Gwinnett requires transfer requests to be renewed every year.
“This is not right,” Barr said. “We pay taxes. Our children should have choice … This is our school district. We should have a voice.”
School officials at Gwinnett and Forsyth said the new law would limit choices in their districts. Their policies allow transfers to new schools, for example. The state law says newer schools do not have to accept transfers.
State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, who sponsored HB 251, said it provides a minimum standard and that school districts are free to exceed it.
Gwinnett and Forsyth are the first school districts to enter into special student performance contracts with the state. Known as IE2 contracts, they afford the schools flexibility to opt out of Georgia education mandates if they can show greater results in classrooms.
Georgia Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox recommended that the state board approve the waivers. “I think these two counties already have a good, thoughtful transfer policy in place,” she said.