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NAACP Hearing Testimony: Pattern of Discrimination in Coatesville

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Copyright 2013 Philadelphia Newspapers, LLC
All Rights Reserved

The Philadelphia Inquirer
October 16, 2013 Wednesday
CITY-D Edition
PHILADELPHIA; P-com Education; Pg. B04
477 words
Coatesville parents, residents tell NAACP of district bias
By Michaelle Bond; Inquirer Staff Writer

Parents and residents of the Coatesville Area School District testified at an NAACP public hearing Tuesday that the district had shown a pattern of discrimination against certain types of students over the years.

Special-education advocates said low-income minority children with disabilities, and their families, are treated unfairly. A mother of an ROTC student said the high number of minority participants was one reason the program was cut. A lawyer from the Education Law Center said the district expels minority students at higher rates than other students.

The allegations emerged weeks after Superintendent Richard Como and athletic director James Donato resigned over racist and sexist text messages they sent to each other about students and staff on district-issued phones.

The state NAACP, which held the hearing in response to the texting scandal, said it would look into the claims and might refer cases to the federal Justice Department or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. It may also take its own legal action.

"The first step in healing is having someone hearing that you've been harmed," said Joan Duvall-Flynn, head of the state NAACP's education committee, who led the hearing.

More than 60 people filled a community room at Second Baptist Church to hear the statements. Claims at the hearing could not be independently verified. There were no district representatives at the meeting to respond to the accusations.

Representatives from Arc of Chester County, which serves people with disabilities, said discriminatory behavior in the district caused a disabled child to miss a week of school because transportation was not provided. They said the district does not take children's disabilities into account when disciplining them for behavioral problems. Connie Mohn, the organization's director of advocacy, said families would speak privately to the NAACP but were afraid to speak out for fear they would be punished.

Minority children in the district are more likely to be suspended or expelled than students nationwide, statewide, or in Philadelphia, said David Lapp, a lawyer with the Education Law Center, using the district's data. He said the district was expelling students for 20- and 30-day periods.

"If they're so dangerous they shouldn't be in school, 20 or 30 days isn't going to do anything about that," Lapp said.

Safiya Edwards, whose son was in the now-shuttered ROTC program at Coatesville Area High School, contended that the high number of minorities in the program contributed to the closing of the program, in which students earned credit.

"I feel that a number of students in Coatesville have been significantly harmed by this," Edwards said.

A second hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at the church. The NAACP said a third hearing was likely for November.

mbond@phillynews.com

610-313-8105 @MichaelleBond

October 16, 2013

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