"Even when inconvenient, equality must be prioritized"
Elimination of discriminatory admissions policies in public schools a vital precursor to testing and enrollment
Buffalo’s public school system is riddled with problems and everyone knows it – now discriminatory policy poses yet another obstacle to providing children in Buffalo with effective – and equal – educational experiences.
Last year, three parents filed discrimination complaints with the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, alleging that the district’s criteria-based schools were excluding minority students from enrollment.
A federal investigation revealed that there were disproportionately low acceptance rates for minority students and changes to the admissions process will likely result in increased admissions of those students at five of the eight criteria-based schools in the district.
Parent leaders want the assessment period delayed until the consultant makes his recommendations, but Superintendent Donald Ogilvie and School Board President James Sampson have wholeheartedly and unwisely rejected the idea.
The consultant hired by the district to review admissions procedures – which typically includes letters of recommendation, records attendance and grades, assessment results and interviews – will look at all eight schools, a process that won’t be completed until Jan. 30.
Assessments of applicants are scheduled from Oct. 11 to Dec. 13, and therein lies the district’s predicament.
Ogilvie and Sampson have stated that no changes will be made to admissions processes until after the consultant generates his report. That’s understandable – the most effective revisions to a policy will be those backed by extensive research and an external perspective.
But the superintendent and president’s plan to move forward with admissions now would involve following current procedures – procedures that have been acknowledged as discriminatory and which require review and improvement that Ogilvie and Sampson themselves don’t deny as necessary.
Though it’s promising that the district hired a consultant and appears to be willing to listen to his recommendations and revise their policies as needed, Ogilvie and Sampson appear all too comfortable to maintain the discriminatory status quo for another year.
Students deserve equal access to participation in criteria based schools, and as soon as it became clear that the current methods don’t allow for that, those methods should have been deemed unacceptable and irrelevant.
Even if a formalized revision of policy can’t be generated in time, with the consultant’s recommendations available by the end of January, it seems that the district would have ample time to employ an interim policy. One which at the very least attempts to address the most pressing problems.
Would delaying the admissions processes pose an inconvenience? Most likely. Would a temporary policy be inconvenient and imperfect? Probably. But whether or not the school district needs to be prioritizing equal access to education above all else isn’t even a question – or at least, it shouldn’t be.