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OCTOBER 31 2013

Race Equity Issues
Follow-up to Wednesday Reports

Work to address Race Equity Issues has been underway

You may have read or heard about some of the reports yesterday and today regarding race equity, specifically a disproportionate number of non-white students enrolled in Special Education in the Schenectady City School District.  The release from the Office of Civil Rights on Wednesday was an announcement of a voluntary resolution.  It’s important to provide clarity as sometimes vital points get lost in translation.  OCR did not sanction the district.  The office was acknowledging that Schenectady had already identified and addressed critical issues, actions that are pleasing to OCR.   Additionally, we want you to know that our teachers care deeply about all of our students and there is no implication that our staff is intentionally discriminating against any students.

The notice we received from OCR was a pleasant communication offering applause to the work that we are doing. “The Department is pleased to be releasing a press release regarding this compliance review this afternoon,” wrote the Office of Civil Rights on Wednesday.  “This voluntary resolution agreement would not have been possible but for your support and commitment to improve services for students with and without disabilities, and English Language Learners in your district.” 

We want to provide clarity and make you aware that prior to the media announcements, we had already identified disparities and had a thorough plan in place which is currently being implemented.   OCR is aware that we have been working to address any and all race equity issues and continue to do work to change the systems.  Superintendent Larry Spring talks about the importance of this often and with great passion.

Spring said it’s important to point out that Schenectady has the finest teachers.  “Our students are fortunate to have the teachers we have here,” said Spring.   He said that while teachers are not consciously treating non-white students differently, sometimes cultural differences do come in to play.

“Oftentimes, cultural differences in behavior can be difficult to mediate,” said Spring.  “The reality is that every teacher wants all of his students to be successful.  They look to special education when they are out of strategies and need additional help.  Generally, teachers don’t see special education as a bad thing.”

Spring said this is not a criticism of the teaching staff.  “It means we have to do more to recognize the different cultures and value that students bring to school and to help them learn how to change contexts and be successful at school without abandoning their sense of self,” he added.

While the superintendent acknowledges that the district has taken huge steps to address race equity, he admits there is work to do.    Spring is adamant and continues to stress that this work won’t end.  Equity has become the cornerstone of every decision made within this district.   

“We have a competent, very talented, teaching staff here,” said Spring.  “I am certain that each of our teachers want to ensure that every student achieves success.  We have to implement a system that provides training, resources and help to do that.”

The plan that we have instituted is beyond what is mandated.  It is that plan which led to a Resolution Agreement as opposed to some notion of a sanction. 

“The Department of Education applauds your commitment to steadily improving the equitable provision of regular education interventions and special education interventions to your students,” wrote OCR.

“Yes, we still have much work to do but we will continue on the path,” said Spring.  “I can’t stress enough the importance of equity.   We must ensure that race, economics and disability are not predictors for academic achievement. Anything otherwise, is unacceptable.” 

If you have questions or would like to discuss this topic with Superintendent Spring, please call 370-8100 X-40107.  It is very important that you have the facts.