Parents See Bias in School Pep Talks

Adam Smeltz, Courier-Post Staff (Cherry Hill, New Jersey), January 22, 2009

The Eastern Regional High School administration targeted only black and Latino students in a series of academic pep talks last week, angering some parents who said the effort smacked of discrimination.

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Administrators described the talks as 10-minute motivational meetings held over four days during school hours. They said each was meant to encourage minority enrollment in advanced, honors and other higher-level classes.

But their approach, targeting minority students and failing to inform parents, fell short, some families said. The administration required all black and Latino students to attend the gatherings–regardless of each student’s individual academic performance–while white students were exempted.

Eastern High counts 234 black and 65 Latino students; together, they make up about 14 percent of the student population.

But as of last year, they accounted for roughly 1 percent of enrollment in advanced placement classes; 2 percent to 3 percent in honors classes; 15 percent to 16 percent in accelerated-level classes; and 20 percent to 40 percent in standard classes, Principal Robert M. Tull Jr. said.

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Tull provided the memo to the Courier-Post. It also indicates that the district does not fully comply with the Comprehensive Equity Plan, a districtwide effort to combat discriminatory or inequitable practices. State law requires that every school have such an equity plan.

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At Eastern High, Tull’s correspondence suggests, not enough female or minority students are enrolled in accelerated or advanced classes. The plan is designed to ensure fair, equal access to all levels of classes.

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