Austin district moves to conduct assessment of school equity

The Austin school board is taking steps to conduct a self-assessment on school equity in response to a threat by the Texas Civil Rights Project to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the district.

Prior to conducting the assessment, the board will get ideas from a committee that is already examining how many of the district’s contracts are awarded to minority- or women-owned businesses. Then, the equity study will be conducted by a separate committee to be formed by the board in March.

The Texas Civil Right Project’s push for an assessment is an attempt to quantify a persistent issue in the Austin school district. Data has shown many schools on the city’s east side are under capacity, have high numbers of inexperienced teachers and educate mostly low-income, Hispanic and black students. Those schools have been the focus of a series of reforms over the years, with varying degrees of success. On the other hand, some of the district’s other schools and programs are highly competitive, full of experienced teachers and educate larger percentages of affluent students.

“Equal opportunity has to be guaranteed to all our children in our society,” Trustee Ted Gordon said during a 1.5 hour robust — and sometimes heated — discussion as the school board addressed equity and equality on Monday night. “Education is supposed to be the great leveler of this society … I don’t think the school district can do everything to resolve this issue, but I think we owe it to our kids to try to figure out what’s going on within our district, where the inequities lie, and see if we can address them.”

Abby Frank, a Texas Civil Rights Project attorney, said the group is pleased by the steps the district is taking.

“It’s a good step forward for the district,” she said. “This is only the beginning and we hope to be involved in the process and ensure there is community input.”

Trustee Robert Schneider questioned what exactly the assessment will measure and said he wants to make sure the committee is not monopolized by any one perspective.

The Texas Civil Rights Project in January publicly complained that the district had not addressed a disparity between the resources and opportunities given to affluent students and their low-income peers on the city’s east side. The group has said there are clear discrepancies in the district’s distribution of education resources, including access to donations and private resources from outside groups and access to high-quality and signature programs.

Schneider and Gordon clashed Monday over the diversity at the district’s nationally ranked high school: the Liberal Arts and Science Academy. Though district data shows that less than 12 percent of LASA students are low-income, less than 2 percent are black and 21.4 percent are Hispanic — in a district where 60 percent of students are Hispanic or low-income, and 8 percent are black — Schneider called LASA the most diverse high school in the district.

Schneider also said he didn’t think students took issue with the fact that LASA students, the majority of whom are white, are taught on the second floor of the campus; while those at LBJ High, where most students are low-income and black or Hispanic, are taught on the bottom floor.

Gordon disagreed with both points.

“I really do question when the percentage of African Americans, just to take my own interest and identity, is as low as it is, regardless of whatever your definition of diversity it is, to say that it is a diverse setting and that it’s OK the way it is, I was going to say is insulting, but I won’t go that far,” Gordon said. “It’s incomprehensible. There’s a problem.”

Schneider said if there was some sort of bias at LASA, including which students are admitted into the school a competitive process based on the student’s performance on a test, teacher recommendations and an essay he “would be among the first” to speak up.

“LASA is an open application. Anyone can apply,” Schneider said. “They don’t keep track of race or ethnicity or anything else for the applications. And in fact they have gone through numerous and repeated steps to make sure students aren’t identifiable to make sure that issues like you’re bringing up are not part of the process. So if you have a system where anyone and everyone can apply, I’m failing to see any deliberate and intentional effort to keep anyone out, regardless of their ethnicity or social economic status or anything else …

“I fail to see how the argument of there’s bias based on ethnicity is valid in any way at that school,” Schneider said.

Gordon, who is also chairman of the University of Texas African and African Diaspora Studies Department, said the fact that proportionally small numbers of minority students attend a school such as LASA shows that the system is somehow working to exclude them. He said the campus represents “colorblind racism,” which he said looks “racial inequity in the eye and claims it doesn’t exist.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Trump demands Justice Department probe claims of spying on his 2016 campaign
Trump demands Justice Department probe claims of spying on his 2016 campaign

In a tweet Sunday afternoon, President Donald Trump said he will demand that the Justice Department investigate whether it or the FBI spied on his 2016 presidential campaign for political reasons, CNN reported. "I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated...
LSU football legend, Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon dead at 80
LSU football legend, Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon dead at 80

Billy Cannon, the 1959 Heisman Trophy winner who led Louisiana State University to a national title in 1958, died Sunday, The Advocate of Baton Rouge reported. He was 80. Cannon, a running back, is the only player in LSU football history to win the Heisman. His famous “Halloween run” -- an 89-yard punt return in the fourth quarter...
South Carolina authorities searching for 3 escaped inmates
South Carolina authorities searching for 3 escaped inmates

South Carolina authorities are searching for three inmates -- two of whom are charged with murder -- who escaped from a jail, WRDW reported. The Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office said in a Facebook post that the trio escaped from the county detention center Saturday night and that all are considered dangerous. The three inmates were identified...
Police: 13-year-old in custody after 2 children shot in Central Florida city
Police: 13-year-old in custody after 2 children shot in Central Florida city

Two children were hospitalized after being shot in a Central Florida city Saturday evening and a 13-year-old boy was in custody, police said.  The incident occurred shortly before 6 p.m. in the Brevard County city of Palm Bay. Two juvenile victims, who police did not identify, were taken to nearby hospitals in serious but stable condition, police...
Patrick blames ‘violent culture,’ not guns for Santa Fe school shooting
Patrick blames ‘violent culture,’ not guns for Santa Fe school shooting

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Sunday blamed the school shooting in Santa Fe on “a violent culture where we devalue life,” citing violent movies and video games, bullying on social media, and abortion, and calling for arming teachers who he said should be part of the militia envisioned by the Second Amendment “We cannot sit back and say it&rsquo...
More Stories