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RPS Racial Equity Advisory Team (Community Focus Team)

 

PER PB 

 

 

The Racial Equity Advisory Team to Rochester Public Schools is disbanding.

The task force, originally called the Community Focus Team, was formed after a federal investigation into a disproportionate discipline rate of district minority students.

In a Feb. 4 statement to the school board about the decision to disband, Carl Eric-Gentes said the members of the task force don’t believe the problem has been solved or even properly addressed by the school district.

“Each and every day, our students of color and their families experience racial adversity that hinders their ability to learn and grow as equal members of their classrooms and schools,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights intervened after a five-year compliance review in 2015 showed minority students at Rochester schools were being disproportionately disciplined.

The CFT task force, made up of community members and parents, formed to learn more about the problem and to work with district officials to address the disparity.

Members of the group said too many barriers, including access to discipline data and access to students and staff, made that task difficult.

“There were a lot of blockades,” said Heidi Mae-Wilkins, one of the founding members of the task force.

According to district data, the disparities haven’t significantly changed since the OCR became involved.

During the 2018-19 school year, total discipline referrals were up district-wide, from 1,941 in the first semester last school year to 2,209 the first semester this school year.

The discipline disparity for the district’s African-American students widened from the previous year.

In the first semester of 2017-18, 768 African-American students made up 39.6% of the district’s discipline referrals, while African-Americans represent 14% of the total student enrollment. In the first semester of 2018-19, 921 African-American students received discipline referrals, accounting for 41.7% of discipline referrals.

Mae-Wilkins said looking ahead, each of the members will do what they can to address the disparity and help the district find solutions to the problem.

“We had to take different avenues on our own,” she said.

Board members thanked the task force for their work and said they intend to work with members and continue their oversight efforts to ease the disparities.

“I do believe that effort is being expanded,” said Julie Workman, RPS board member.

Another approach some task-force members are trying is to get students involved who can report their own experiences to the board and school administration. One program, Student Leaders Creating Change, works with the Rochester Diversity Council and is guided by Mae-Wilkins and her husband Kamau Wilkins.

“I don’t want to put this on the kids, but gosh, they get things done,” Mae-Wilkins said.

The district has also hired a Shavana Talbert, district equity coordinator, board members and Mae-Wilkins pointed out.

“We’re not done,” Mae-Wilkins added. “None of the members have given up.”

 

 

 


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