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Mam'k Schools Talk Civil Rights Complaint

The Mamaroneck School District incorporated a community discussion on the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) complaint as part of a regularly scheduled board meeting last night. The session was scheduled for 6:45-7:15 p.m.

 

In what was the first public forum since the federal (OCR) complaint against the Mamaroneck School District was made known parents, community activists and board members voiced their opinions on a topic that many had hoped never to confront in a diverse community such as Mamaroneck.

 Rina Jimenez, whose son attends Central Elementary School, filed the complaint against the District last December after she noticed a disproportionately high number of minority children in her son’s kindergarten class.  In August 2012, the OCR concluded that the District had applied its criteria “inconsistently and subjectively,” and that non-white students had, in fact, been disproportionately assigned to the class in question in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

As part of the agreement negotiated with the OCR, the District must submit a breakdown of students assigned to kindergarten classes by race and national origin in September of 2012 and 2013.   

Keiko Tannenbaum, co-president of the Central School Parent Teacher Association (PTA), praised the efforts of the District to work with the parents who initially complained about the kindergarten class and pointed to the District’s effort to educate the community about the kindergarten procedure by holding an event on the topic.

School Board President Nancy Pierson apologized to staff at Central School, acknowledging that many of them had to weather the blows of the community’s reaction to the complaint.

“I commend the way they handled this,” she said. 

And, in reading the numerous comments posted on local websites in response to the OCR complaint, Pierson said she came to one conclusion: “Our District values diversity.”

Luis Quiros, a community activist and author of An Other’s Mind, argued that systems of racial disparity were more deeply rooted in the District.

“The school district is contaminated with systems and subsystems that protect segregation…a laundry list by the district of activities and meetings held on behalf of Latino families are disguises of power tactics organized to minimize Latino complaints,” he said. 

Others directed their ire toward fixing what they saw as a broken system.

The parent of a child who was previously in the District, Eleanor Sherman, admonished school officials for their “appalling actions.”

“I am offended that you all are sitting there complementing each other….you have an obligation to the law,” she said, continuing, “There are other parents that are too frightened to speak on their child’s behalf because they’re afraid of retribution.”

But not all parents were aggrieved with the school’s actions.

A Central School parent, Bijan Anvar, said, “I’m a minority…I don’t feel like anyone was segregated here.”

He went on to say, “All my experiences have been positive…I think there’s a lot of parents that feel the way I do.”

Midway through the forum, the public comment session turned contentious when a parent identified by his first name only, Kurt, approached the podium to speak.  As he began to speak, the Central Elementary yearbook in hand, someone shouted from the audience, “Is he doing that again,” referencing the public outcry after pictures of the school yearbook surfaced in local media.

Kurt then directed his comments to Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaps, referencing an incident that occurred at a school where he previously worked in New Hampshire.

Deemed a personal attack against the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Anthony Minotti yelled “Sit down” several times, before Kurt, with Jimenez in tow, stormed out of the meeting, frustrated by the interruptions.

As the comment session continued, Jonathan Sacks, a member of the school’s Selection Committee and Citizens Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC) who has two children in the school district, said that he came to Mamaroneck because he felt it was, “very important to raise children in a diverse community.”

“Unfortunately the way this thing has come up it’s going to limit the way we deal with diversity and race,” he said.

School Board member Stan Futterman, an attorney in private practice, cited an example of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle Schools as an example of the complexities inherent to racial issues within school districts.

The 2007 case involved the Seattle School District being taken to task for their method of determining who would be admitted to certain popular schools.  The “tiebreaker” would admit whichever race of student that would restore the school’s racial balance as closely as possible to a predetermined percentage that mimicked the diversity of the student population as a whole.  The original decision of the Supreme Court was overturned.

“Judges don’t agree on requirements,” he said, continuing, “The most important issue was for us to do what we think is right…we’re going to try and define policy that we think makes sense.”

Board member Robin Nichinsky, a former member of the Mamaroneck-Larchmont Human Rights Commission and Minority Achievement Task Force, said that, “the issues are very close to my heart and I care about them.”

“We recognize that these classes were imbalanced,” she said.

Board member Ann LoBue said, “I support the policy committee looking at this so it doesn’t happen again.”

Pierson said, “When we look at policy, we look at law, educational impact and who we want to be as a community…We’re not going to come up with a solution that pleases everyone.”

Referring to future policy committee meetings, Pierson said that, “We welcome the community at large to be part of the discussion.”

After the forum, the mother of three boys who had attended Central School who gave only her first name, Phyllis, said, “I am so supportive of the school district…it’s nothing but a top-notch education.” She identified herself as a minority.

“I think Ms. Jimenez is looking for a multi-million dollar settlement,” she said.

JP October 10, 2012 at 12:21 AM
Ms. Sherman, you stated above, "Our case has nothing to do with Seattle". But you going on and on both here and last week at the meeting about whether or not your son should have been permitted to use a specialized calculator does? Please stop using these forums to vent about your own personal vendetta against the district. And I am about as far from being a lawyer as one can be. You are completely off base in your last post directed to me. Once again, you are making accusations and assumptions about people without proof or reason. You don't believe what "Enuf" is saying nor that s/he is a minority; you don't believe that the people involved with class placement at Central could possibly have put together classes with intent to segregate by race; you don't believe that I could possible post what I did above without being some attorney trying to dig myself out of some imagined hole. It must be a sad way to live, always thinking such negative things about people. You also stated, "enuf, I am not here to defend or judge the parent whom I don't know. I am not going to judge her motives either." Then why is it you are so willing to judge the people who did placement at Central? And in particular to judge their motives?
JP October 10, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Finally Ms. Sherman, you say regarding your own parent, "You see race didn't matter to her. It is what is within the soul, not the exterior of the skin that matters." Seems to me your mother would be in agreement with Central in not using race as a criteria for placement. It's the soul that matters, right?
Eleanor Sherman October 10, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Shhhhhhh JP. My mother is deceased. :(
JP October 10, 2012 at 12:47 AM
I'm sorry, Eleanor. Mine is as well. I was not disrespecting her in the least - she sounds like a very special and wise woman based on the bit you've shared here. (as an aside, please stop shhhhhhhing me. I would never do that to you and you've certainly shared a lot more on this topic than I have.....).
Eleanor Sherman October 10, 2012 at 04:29 PM
JP I accept your apology. However, I think that there are some people that are bordering on slandering the parent calling her a "criminal" for wanting to desegregate a class. Others have said "she hates her own race" which is a dispicable comment and based on just "mean words." Only a loving parent would have gone so far to right an injustice in my opinion. I think that "any parent" would protect their children from injustice. At least, I hope so. I think all that needs to be said "has been said." Let the law take over now. It is not up for us to decide anything further. What was..happened and I am sure will never happen again, because we are "wiser." Let's all "play nice children" and show our own kids that we can have differences of opinion, and don't have to play dirty. Peace be with you all. :)

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