With the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education as a backdrop, a group of black leaders filed a civil rights complaint yesterday against the Anne Arundel County school system that alleges unequal treatment of African-American students.
The group contends that the school system "has institutionalized separate and unequal advance placement opportunities for white and African American students," according to its complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
The complaint cites data that show blacks are underrepresented in honors and Advanced Placement classes and the prestigious International Baccalaureate magnet program, and are more often suspended or expelled. It also alleges that some teachers, guidance counselors and administrators harbor lower expectations for black youngsters.
"We believe that Anne Arundel County schools are limiting educational and employment opportunities for our youth," said Gerald Stansbury, president of the Anne Arundel branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a lead complainant, at an afternoon news conference. "We are prepared to produce witnesses that will testify that our youth have been subjected to a double standard."
The complaint asks the Education Department to require the Anne Arundel school board to craft an "action plan" to remedy the disparity.
The complaint comes two months after the ouster of Annapolis High School Principal Deborah Williams, whose eight-month tenure fanned racial tensions at the school. Williams, who was vocal about the problems facing black students, had the backing of the black community but was opposed by a group of mostly white teachers and parents.
One expert says challenges to de facto segregation within schools are not unusual. The NAACP has filed similar complaints against other school systems across the country, said Sherrilyn Ifill, a University of Maryland law professor.
"The issue of internal segregation is one that's been with us almost since the first day of [school] integration," Ifill said. "I think this is actually a very prevalent problem."
But not everyone agrees that black students are treated differently in Anne Arundel. Pamela Bukowski, a white Annapolis mother of six who has been nominated for a seat on the county school board, said her children have never had a teacher whom she believes thought less of other students because of race.
She said she does not believe teachers purposely exclude certain students from high-level classes. "I have not known the teachers of the more advanced classes ... to say the African-American students just can't do it, so let's not expect it of them," she said.
However, Gregory Neil Brown, a black father of seven who attended the news conference, said he has had to fight over the years to get his children into challenging classes, against the advice of teachers and guidance counselors.
"If you're black in Anne Arundel County, they automatically try to steer your child away from those AP classes," the Annapolis resident said. "This is not hearsay. This is my experience."