By Connie Llanos - Staff Writer | L.A. Daily News
03/28/2010 -- Upset that black students were not included in a recently announced probe of potential civil rights violations at Los Angeles Unified, local African-American leaders are demanding federal officials include them in the investigation.
The compliance review, launched two weeks ago by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, was the first of 38 planned nationwide. The probe will look at whether LAUSD has respected the civil rights of English-language learners and provided them equal access to educational opportunities.
Leaders of several civil rights groups including the NAACP, Urban League and Black Educational Task Force, however, say the school district has chronically neglected African-American students and any civil rights probe of the nation's second-largest school district should include them.
"I don't see how we can have any kind of investigation into the disparities in the treatment of students in the inner city without including African-American students," said Leon Jenkins, president of the Los Angeles branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"While you can make a separation between English learner students, their issues are no less severe than what black students experience and their failure rate is compatible. ... More than anything else this should be an equal protection issue for all children in underachieving schools."
Federal officials said they are looking into how LAUSD educates English-language learners because they make up a relatively large part of the district and they have shown dismal academic results compared to their counterparts in other districts.
A third of LAUSD's students are English-language learners and the district educates 11 percent of the nation's population of students learning English. At the same time only 3 of every 100 of the district's English learners are considered proficient in English and math by the time they reach high school.
Federal investigators stressed though that discrimination of any kind would be promptly addressed.
"This is not about English learners to the exclusion of other students," said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights with the Education Department. "Where discrimination happens we will work to uncover and resolve those issues."
Concerns raised by African-American leaders come at a time when black children have increasingly become a minority within minorities. Currently just under 11 percent of LAUSD's students are black. In comparison, Latino students make up 74 percent of the student population.
Black leaders said, intentionally or not, leaving students out of this civil rights probe could in fact fuel tensions in "an already fragile relationship," said Larry Aubrey, a local columnist and advocate for the black community.
The achievement gap between black students and Latinos and their white or Asian peers has been an issue of concern.
In 2008, African-American students had an average score of 627 on the Academic Performance Index, a statewide benchmark test on which students are ultimately expected to score between 800 and 1,000. The API average score for black students was just one point higher than the average for LAUSD's English learners.