- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

ELK GROVE, Calif. (AP) The principal at T.R. Smedberg Middle School held meetings last week for parents to discuss their children's scores on standardized tests. There were four meetings in all, with separate gatherings for whites, Asians, blacks and Hispanics.
The principal, who is black, said the segregated meetings were designed to "get real honest answers" from black and Hispanic parents, whose children were among the lowest scorers, and to allow them to speak freely, without embarrassment.
But the separate-but-equal meetings at the public school troubled some parents in Elk Grove, a mostly white, middle-class suburb of Sacramento, and brought the threat of a lawsuit from a conservative organization.
"I am not embarrassed to speak out, and they could have done it in one big meeting," said Randy Reyna, a Hispanic man whose daughter is in seventh grade.
Across the country, several educational and civil rights groups including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Education Association said they had never heard of such meetings. In heavily black Oakland, however, a middle school held racially separate meetings two years ago for parents to discuss after-school programs.
Some Hispanic parents at Smedberg said they had mixed feelings at first. But after their meeting, one spoke passionately in Spanish and English about how to raise her seventh-grader's scores.
"Now everyone knows the levels their children are at," Maria Mendoza said through daughter Ariana, who translated. "Now I know how to help my children."
Principal Philip Moore, who has the support of his school superintendent and the school board, spoke to about 20 parents at his 1,600-student school before deciding on the separate meetings.
Nancy Kilborn, who is white and has a daughter at Smedberg, said the meetings have worked out for her family. "I was kind of surprised and shocked when I first heard about the meetings," she said. "I felt very comfortable."
Linda Chavez, a conservative opposed to affirmative action who once was President Bush's top choice to head the Labor Department, called the meetings patronizing and in violation of the 1954 landmark Supreme Court school desegregation ruling Brown v. Board of Education.
"If a principal is on the payroll of the school district and is undertaking these actions, then they are violating the Brown Act," she said.
Mrs. Chavez said her public policy think tank, the Center for Equal Opportunity in Washington, is considering suing.
Mr. Moore said parents were free to attend any meeting, regardless of race, if scheduling was a problem. That, he said, kept the school in compliance with the Brown ruling.
Elk Grove is a rapidly growing Sacramento County community of 80,000 people, many of whom are state government or high-tech industry workers. Of the area school system's 40,000 students, 58 percent are minorities. The school system also draws the sons and daughters of agriculture industry workers who live in the countryside outside the city limits.
The school's Academic Performance Index scores are based on students' performance on the Stanford 9 and STAR tests given to students from second through 11th grades statewide each year. The next round of tests for both the Stanford 9 and STAR comes in May.
Fifty-one percent of Smedberg students who took last year's tests were white, 15 percent were Hispanic, 14 percent Asian and 11 percent black. White and Asian students scored an average of 75 points higher than black and Hispanic students on the 1,000-point API ranking of the two standardized tests.

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