- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — NAACP officials yesterday filed a class-action discrimination complaint against the Anne Arundel County school system, claiming blacks are disproportionately removed from classrooms and still separated from whites through advanced-placement classes.

“We believe African-American youths are referred to the [principal’s] office more frequently and for racially motivated reasons, which results in greater suspensions and expulsions, as well as greater dropout rates,” said Gerald Stansbury, president of the county’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “Our youth are conspicuously absent from advance-placement classes, the gifted and talented programs, as well as the International Baccalaureate program.”

Mr. Stansbury said the organization is backing more than 20 plaintiffs who claim suspension and expulsion rates are higher among black students and that racially motivated harassment of blacks is tolerated in the county school system.

As proof, the NAACP circulated a November 2003 memo on county letterhead that stated several such examples during the 2002-03 school year at Annapolis High School.

The document stated that 323 out of 739 black students were suspended, while 72 out of 736 whites were suspended during that year.

“We believe that the Anne Arundel County schools are limiting educational and employment opportunities for our youth,” said Mr. Stansbury, who was joined by about 100 sign-carrying residents at a press conference at the formerly all-black and now abandoned Wiley Bates High School.

Irma Holland, who has one daughter in the freshman class and another in the junior class at Annapolis High School, is the lead complainant in the suit.

“I call on parents to become more involved in your child’s education,” she told members of the crowd, which sang hymns and held signs that stated: “2 schools in 1; that’s separate not equal.”

Anne Arundel school system officials yesterday said they would look into the reputed racism.

“The school system is studying the issue,” said Tony Ruffin, a spokesman for the system.

Still, the NAACP complaint, which will be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, stated that less than 1 percent of blacks qualified to participate in an advanced-placement Algebra 1 course at Annapolis High School in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 school years. Seven percent qualified in the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 school years. Less than 1 percent of Hispanics qualified during any of the four school years.

“Something is wrong,” said Alva Sheppard-Johnson, a former teacher and counselor in the Anne Arundel school system. Our schools are “integrated up until the children pass through the school doors.”

Officials at the Office for Civil Rights could not be reached for comment at press time.

Most of the participants, who compared yesterday’s event to the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, seemed to agree that the suit has been long overdue, but thought their message would finally be heard.

“We hope the [Office of Civil Rights] pushes Anne Arundel County to come out with a plan of action to improve the achievement rate,” Mr. Stansbury said.

Mrs. Holland agreed. “Our children deserve as much of an education as any other child,” she said.

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