The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is now officially investigating whether Gwinnett County Public Schools discriminated against African American and Hispanic students in recent redistricting of Duluth and Peachtree Ridge Cluster attendance zones.
“According to our Office for Civil Rights, the case is now under investigation,” Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the federal Education Department, reported Friday (May 20). “OCR is investigating whether the Gwinnett County School District discriminated against African American and Hispanic students by redrawing its attendance zones for the Peachtree Ridge and Duluth Clusters on the basis of race and national origin in noncompliance with the regulation implementing Title VI,” Bradshaw said.
“As you may know, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in all programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance,” he said.
Bradshaw also reported that two complaints alleging discrimination filed with OCR in April have been merged. The second was folded into the first complaint, he said.
The complaints challenging the redistricting were filed April 18 by Duluth parents. OCR had been evaluating the complaints to determine if they were appropriate for investigation.
The Gwinnett County Board of Education voted April 21 to redistrict a total of 505 students from schools in the Peachtree Ridge Cluster into the Duluth Cluster to relieve overcrowding in Hull Middle School and Peachtree Ridge High School in the Peachtree Ridge Cluster. The redistricting included shifting three apartment complexes and two extended stay hotels near Gwinnett Place Mall from the Peachtree Ridge Cluster to the Duluth Cluster. The redistricting would go into effect with the 2011-12 school year.
The first complaint alleged that the GCPS discriminates against low-income and minority students because the redistricting prevents students from attending Peachtree Ridge High School in the more affluent Peachtree Ridge Cluster. The complaint further alleged that the redistricting would impose an undue burden on already poorer Duluth High School in the Duluth Cluster, while protecting Peachtree Ridge High School in the wealthy area from an influx of poor and minority students.
The second complaint, now part of the first complaint, alleged that the Gwinnett school system discriminated on the basis of race and national origin because it selected 450 underprivileged Hispanic and African-American children to move from an affluent school cluster to an already overburdened poorer school.
"We have not seen the complaint, but are confident in our redistricting
process," responded Sloan Roach, executive director of communication and media relations for Gwinnett County Public Schools.
Now that the investigation is underway, the OCR will begin gathering information to determine if the school system is in compliance with civil rights laws, according to Bradshaw. This may involve site visits and talking to individuals, he said, and may take six months or longer depending on the complexity of the allegations. If the OCR determines that civil rights laws were violated, it would attempt to negotiate an agreement with the school system to bring it into compliance. While in virtually all cases the OCR is able to reach an agreement, Bradshaw said, it does have enforcement options.
Under the federal Privacy Act, the OCR is prohibited from disclosing the names of complainants in its cases. Lynne Sycamore, who identified herself as among “a handful of parents” that filed the first complaint with the OCR, told Duluth Patch previously that they hoped to make the GCPS go back to the table and redraw the lines to balance enrollment in the clusters and eliminate discrimination against low-income and minority children.
Several parents at public hearings and forums during the redistricting process asked the school board to use socio-economic data to balance enrollment in the clusters. GCPS officials repeatedly emphasized that GCPS does not consider socio-economic factors in redistricting. Parents also appealed to GCPS to address overcrowding in other schools in both clusters.
For more information on how OCR handles civil rights complaints, visit http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintprocess.html.