Parent group calls Magnet program biased

April 4, 2005, midnight | By Grace Harter | 16 years, 9 months ago

MCPS officials work to find solutions to problems raised

With additional reporting by Ravi Umarji

The African American Parents of Magnet School Applicants (AAPMSA) sent a memorandum to the Montgomery County Board of Education on March 2 asking that the board suspend Magnet school applications at Eastern and Takoma Park Middle Schools because of bias against African American and Hispanic students.

In the memorandum sent to board members, the AAPMSA provided data on the racial makeup of admissions at Takoma Park and Eastern middle schools. At Takoma, 65 black students applied for the Magnet in 2004, compared to the 291 white students and 238 Asian students that also applied, according to the data provided. Of the admitted group of students, only four percent were black compared to the 46 percent that were white and the 48 percent that were Asian. At Eastern, black students made up eight percent of the entering class in 2004, compared to the 62 percent of whites and 30 percent of Asians entering, according to the memorandum.

Hispanics also apply and are accepted to the Magnet at both schools in lower numbers. In 2004, out of the 32 Hispanic students who applied to the Takoma Magnet, two were admitted. At Eastern, 20 Hispanics applied to the program and two were admitted as well.

The AAPMSA also targeted high schools in a press release mailed by Thomas Broadwater, volunteer coordinator of the AAPMAS on March 4. On average, about six black students per class make it into the Magnets of Richard Montgomery High School and Blair High School. "Blair's Magnet program is one of the most egregious examples of institutionalized racism in the Magnet system," said Broadwater. "There is no excuse for the damages [the Magnet] has caused to African Americans."

Despite the group's urging to suspend the application process, acceptance letters were mailed out, showing a 100 percent increase in the acceptance of African Americans and Hispanics. Out of the 81 blacks that applied, 16 were accepted, showing an 100 percent increase from the five that were accepted last year, according to Scott DeGasperis, the Magnet coordinator at Takoma.

"We tried to look at kids who are historically underrepresented in tests," said DeGasperis. "We're approaching a greater sense of equity in the program."

However, the AAPMSA is still looking to "institutionalize a level playing field" for blacks and Hispanics even after the numbers were released, said Broadwater. He and others in his group believe that minorities are put at a disadvantage as early as second grade. "[There is] a lot of teacher bias," he said. "They place a large number [of minorities] in the wrong classes as early as second grade." According to the group, 80 percent of African Americans are placed in "non-enriching" classes in elementary school and are also less aware of or have less interest in Magnet programs.

To try to curb the challenges minorities face early in life, middle school principals asked some students to apply for the Magnet who normally would not, said Eileen Steinkraus, Magnet coordinator at Blair. The Magnet application includes test scores, teacher recommendations, grades, extracurriculars and an essay, and Steinkraus stressed that all students can apply to the Magnet.

The AAPMSA wants to implement a county-wide diversity plan that would cause MCPS to hire more African American and Hispanic teachers. "MCPS has a history of not hiring African American and Hispanic teachers," said Broadwater. MCPS "can't build a strong student base without diversity." This plan would also call for the immediate termination of teachers who commit racial bias.

The AAPMSA's original intent was to protect their children from being unfairly barred from the Magnet and to fight against the hostile environment minorities face when applying, said Broadwater. However, membership in the group is growing and the AAPMSA is forming strong alliances with local churches and some NAACP members, according to Broadwater.

Since the release of the group's memorandum on March 2, Broadwater says they have received support from MCPS officials as well. "Superintendent Jerry Weast is moving on [the problem] as quickly as possible," said Broadwater. "The public realizes there is a problem."

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Grace Harter. Grace Harter is currently a CAP senior at Blair. She loves anything British, books, music, movies and of course Silver Chips Online. She'd like to close with a quote from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" that is especially profound (and makes reference to her ultimate favorite … More »

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