Update: Superintendent of Mamaroneck Schools Dr. Robert Shaps has put up a video Youtube, in response to the incident. Please click to the right of this article to watch.
On the first day of school last fall, Rina Jimenez noticed that there was something different about her son, Jared’s, kindergarten class at .
Of the 20 children in Ms. Donna Russell’s Class #1, approximately 12 were racial minorities of either Hispanic, Asian or African-American descent, a disproportionately higher number than in most classrooms, and suggestive of an alarming fact: was the school lumping kids together based on racial background?
Both Rina—who is Hispanic—and another parent of a mixed race Hispanic child in the same class, approached school officials with their concerns, but Rina said she didn’t feel that they were taken seriously by the administration. In a letter dated Oct. 28, 2011, Rina writes, “in the three kindergarten classes unaffected by racial segregation, the white population is between 85-90% of a total of 72 students enrolled in kindergarten. In the racially segregated class, the white population is 28% and the Hispanic population is 39%.” Hispanic students compromise approximately 17 percent of the total number of students at Central School.
When the other parent’s child was then allowed to transfer to Chatsworth Avenue School and Rina’s request for a transfer was denied, she filed a complaint in December 2011 with the United States Department of Education’s Office For Civil Rights (OCR). Her allegations against the district included, among other things, that they disproportionately assigned minority residents of Larchmont Acres East—a rental complex that she termed a “housing project” in the eyes of the district—to Russell’s class.
After an almost yearlong investigation of kindergarten students at Central utilizing data from school years 2010-11 and 2011-12, the OCR concluded on August 17, 2012 that the District had applied its criteria “inconsistently and subjectively,” and that non-white students had, in fact, been disproportionately assigned to Class #1 for both school years. All kindergarten students residing in —two Hispanic and one African-American—were assigned to Class #1, the OCR report found, although school officials denied that they had access to student’s race prior to their assignments, they did, however, have access to their addresses.
Although Larchmont Patch was unable to obtain a copy of the District’s policy for kindergarten placement at press time, the letter from the OCR said, “The District's written policy for assigning students to classes, Policy No. 5154.1, states that when assigning students to classes, the building principal will consider a student's age; social, emotional and physical maturity; and achievement in relation to individual ability… School staff stated that the four kindergarten teachers then meet to divide the incoming kindergarten students into four equally balanced class groups, based on the following criteria: gender, birthdate, daycare/nursery, and special needs of the student, if any.”
The letter goes on to say that the principal—in this case Carol Priore—ultimately made the final determination as to kindergarten assignments, although she would often base her decisions on teacher recommendations.
In response to the complaint, the District released a statement yesterday:
“As a school district, we value the rich diversity of our community, families, and staff and believe it is what makes our school district special. The District has never considered ‘self-reporting’ race/ethnicity data as part of the class placement process...OCR concluded that the District did not discriminate against students based on its kindergarten class placement procedures at Central School. We feel comfortable with our current kindergarten class placement process and guidelines used to assign students to classes.”
A copy of the letter, in its entirety, sent out to parents yesterday can be viewed by clicking to the right of the article above.
Despite the District’s assertion that they were not at fault, Norman Siegel, an attorney and former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, disagrees.
“The letter was disappointing,” he said, continuing, “by not informing the community, it makes it look like they did something wrong.”
Despite the inaccuracies he claimed are perpetuated in the letter by the District, he said, “I’m hoping that the school system realizes they have a problem and begin to remedy it. This should send a strong message throughout the state that we won’t tolerate racial discrimination in the public schools.”
The District, as part of a negotiated agreement with the OCR, agreed to submit a written list of its methods for assigning students to kindergarten classes at Central School. The District must also submit, by Sept. 30, a breakdown of students assigned to kindergarten classes by race and national origin, with a follow-up due on Sept. 30, 2013.
Although for now the OCR complaint is concentrated only on kindergarteners, Rina would like the OCR to continue their investigations throughout the school.
“There is no review in the other grades—I think they need to protect these children along the way,” she said.
As for her son, Rina hopes to eventually transfer him to Scarsdale school district.
“It’s probably hard for him to get stress-free education at this point,” she said, "It's very upsetting."