Amy Jeter, Virginian-Pilot (Hampton Roads, Virginia) , December 29, 2008
Black students were disciplined more harshly than white students in Norfolk schools last year, and the city’s main alternative school lacked books, a nurse and other resources, a former principal contends.
The Madison Alternative School and other Norfolk schools also handled special needs students’ education inappropriately, he says.
These and other allegations of civil rights violations have been leveled by Madison’s former principal, Michael L. McIntosh, who has filed merited civil rights charges against at least one other school division in the past. He also says that top administrators in Norfolk suspended him for voicing concerns.
The U.S. Department of Education is now investigating McIntosh’s complaint. If the department’s Office of Civil Rights finds any violations and an agreement cannot be reached to make improvements, then federal money could be withheld from the division or the matter could be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Madison school, at 37th Street and Hampton Boulevard, first opened nearly 100 years ago and has served as an elementary and junior high school. Today it educates middle and high school students with the most serious behavior problems, including some in probation or parole programs. Students under 18 who are pursuing GEDs in a special program also attend.
Most students are sent to Madison for long-term suspensions. The offenses can include multiple discipline violations, gang-related activities and assaults in the schools—problems that Norfolk city and school officials have wrestled with this year.
Largely because of its population, former students and their parents describe Madison as a school with students prone to bad behavior and teachers who try to instruct but don’t always succeed.
Madison’s facilities and services were inadequate, according to McIntosh’s complaint.
The school lacked a nurse and a psychologist, and there were “few books and other instructional materials,” his complaint said.
Some former teachers agreed with McIntosh.
Mayo-Pitts said the school also had no library or a high school social studies teacher last year.
There were two discipline deans and two security officers, but Madison needed more staff members to control student behavior, said Karl Elder, who retired this summer after five years as a dean at Madison and more than 29 years as a Norfolk educator.
McIntosh’s complaint alleges that black students were given longer suspensions and were considered repeat offenders for fewer violations than white students.
Last year, 88 percent of Madison’s students were black, compared with about 65 percent of Norfolk students in grades six through 12, according to school division statistics.
“Without a doubt, there was an amazingly large number of African American students at Madison as compared to white students,” Elder said.
McIntosh also contends black students weren’t allowed to return to their zoned schools after serving their long-term suspensions at Madison.
The assistant city attorney said McIntosh’s accusations of racial discrimination were baseless. Nationwide, there is a problem with minority students being disciplined more than white students, Mungo said.
“It’s easy for someone to cry out ‘race, race, race,’ in the area that we’re dealing with,” Mungo said.