Schools Hold Back Blacks, Group Says

Donna Winchester, St. Petersburg Times, Oct. 4

ST. PETERSBURG—The plaintiff in a lawsuit that alleges African-American children in Pinellas County are not being properly educated charged Monday that the school district has one primary goal: to “dumb down” education, especially for black students.

William Crowley, the lead plaintiff in the class-action suit against the district, said that despite the African-American community’s best efforts, the district “is not taking any approach” in closing the achievement gap between black and white students.

Crowley’s comments came at a news conference held by the International People’s Democratic Uhuru movement on the sidewalk in front of a south Pinellas school. Uhuru movement president Dwight “Chimurenga” Waller said the event was the first step in the organization’s push to launch a campaign to publicize the suit.

“Many of the people don’t even know the lawsuit is happening,” said Crowley, who stood beside Waller. “Our job is to educate them.”

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Crowley’s lawyers say statistics that outline the achievement gap show a systemwide failure to “meet the needs and requirements of students of African descent.” Such a failure is a violation of the Florida Constitution and state law, the lawsuit alleges.

In July 2004, a judge granted class-action status to Crowley’s suit, which means it now represents all 21,000 black students in Pinellas schools and all black children who attend the county’s public schools in the future.

Waller told the small group assembled on the sidewalk Monday that recent incidents show the “hostility of the system.”

He noted the handcuffing of a 5-year-old black kindergartener by police, a racial slur used by a white coach against a black student, a white teacher who referred to a black child as a “monkey” and a white history teacher who asked his students to write a racial epithet as the answer to a test question.

The incidents “underscore the limitations of the courts system to address the problem of African underachievement,” Waller said.

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