- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) - Federal officials are probing a racial disparity in gifted students in the Vicksburg Warren school district.

But their inquiry faces complaints that children were interviewed even after parents didn’t grant permission.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights questioned students last week about opportunities to enroll in gifted and talented education programs. The Vicksburg Post (https://bit.ly/1uZmhg7 ) reports data show white students are four times more likely to be enrolled in gifted programs.

“There was an underrepresentation of African-Americans in the programs,” said Terri Russo, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Education.

The district sent permission forms for students to participate in the compliance review. Some students whose parents did not grant permission for an individual interview were interviewed in groups and often divided into segregated groups for questioning.

Parent Lauren Wilkes said at a meeting last week that supports the Office of Civil Rights interviews but opposes their tactics used in questioning.

“I don’t have a fundamental problem with the federal Department of Education and their office compiling a review, but they are going to very aggressively require the district be responsible for their actions,” Wilkes said. “We as parents have to hold them accountable for how this investigation is being held. I do not agree with how the interviews with the children were handled.”

Russo said the interviews were properly handled and that no personal information was collected.

In 2011 - the most recent data available - about 3.8 percent of the district’s black students were enrolled in gifted education. About 16.2 percent of white students were enrolled. During that time period, district enrollment was 32 percent white and 65.2 percent black. There was a slight decrease in the percentage difference between black and white students admitted to gifted programs since 2009.

The district released a statement saying it was cooperating.

“We want to make certain that each of our students has access to all advanced educational courses as well as foundation courses that will prepare them for college and careers,” the statement said. “There has been no known complaint from anyone that our policies or procedures are not proper. This is a compliance review.”

Russo said no complaint had been filed.

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Information from: The Vicksburg Post, https://www.vicksburgpost.com


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