Plaintiffs, city schools reach agreement

Published 11:00 pm Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A group of parents and Troy City Schools have reached a mediated settlement on a pending lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in class selection practices.

The consent agreement, released to the public on Tuesday, resolves the complaint filed August 2013 in U.S. District Court in which a trio of parents said the practice of allowing parents to request child placement in classrooms was intentionally discriminatory.

In signing the consent agreement, the school system agreed to cease the practice of allowing parents to request teachers. The consent agreement did not assign any fault in the district’s administration of the practice.

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Superintendent Lee Hicks said he was pleased with the mediation process and the consent agreement. “We’re looking forward to moving ahead,” he said.

The teacher request policy came under fire because plaintiffs said it resulted in the creation of racially segregated classrooms. At the beginning of this school year, nine of 57 classes at Troy Elementary School had only African-American students.

However, the consent agreement specifies that given the racial demographics of the school system – 62 percent of students are African-American – “it is anticipated that notwithstanding the end of parent request forms, TES may have one or more classes which may be exclusively all African-American.”

In addition to ending the practice of parent’s requesting teachers, the agreement also dictates that the school system partner with the Teaching Tolerance program at the Southern Poverty Law Center to “enhance interaction between the races, tolerance, and appreciation of diversity, by providing—at no cost to schools—a variety of multimedia teaching kits, online curricula, professional development resources, and special projects.”

The school system will also provide racial and gender demographics for all K-6 classrooms to the plaintiffs’ attorney at least two weeks before the start of school for the next two academic years. The agreement specifies that the plaintiffs’ attorney will work with the district in a good-faith effort to investigate and resolve any concerns.

The school system will also have to pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees, a total of $10,500.

In a prepared statement, Plaintiffs John F. Johnson and Jessica Berry said they hope the decision will benefit all of Troy’s students: “The settlement reached between the Troy City Board of Education and ourselves in this matter is a positive step towards ensuring that not only our children will have a complete educational experience that is molded by interaction with fellow classmates from all backgrounds and abilities but also that our children’s classmates and students to come will receive those benefits.”

Linda Cottrell, who was an original plaintiff in the suit, was dismissed because she is no longer a resident of the school district.

Troy Councilwoman Dejerilyn King Henderson, who helped bring the case against the school system, said it was important that this issue be settled. “I was compelled to bring the case forward because of the fact that there are children who have no choice in being born, no choice in their educational foundation,” King said. “We need to give these children the opportunity to progress and be successful.”

Henderson said she was happy with the arbitrator’s decision. “I am extremely pleased with the decision,” Henderson said. “Everyone will benefit from this decision. It is a win-win situation. Parents don’t have to wonder about whether or not they will get a certain teacher. There will no longer be any segregation. This automatically desegregates the school.”

Stacy Graning contributed to this story.