Anger, Silence Greet Bias Suit
By Pat Driscoll
Reactions from school officials to an economic bias lawsuit filed against the Ann Arbor School District Thursday ranged from anger to detachment to the old standby “no comment.”
Trustee Clarence Dukes called the federal class action suit “a big publicity stunt" and "grandstanding” by attorney Gabriel Kaimowitz.
Trustee Paul Weinhold said he had a completely open mind on the validity of the charges at this point.
Supt. Harry Howard, who returned from vacation this morning, said he could not comment until the schools had officially been served by the courts.
The suit charges that the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and particularly Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, have failed to give low income children equal educational opportunities.
Kaimowitz, acting on behalf of 15 black children from four families living in the Green Road public housing project, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Detroit Thursday. The suit, as a class action, represents all children living in the Green Road site and attending King School.
In a press conference Thursday, Kaimowitz said he hopes the case will set a national precedent requiring schools to teach basic skills to all children. He said similar suits had been filed by students in New York and California who graduated from high school without being able to read and write. He said this was the first time a suit had sought to nip the problem at the elementary level.
“These children are on the way to becoming functional illiterates,” Kaimowitz said. "We're saying to the schools either you can educate them or you cannot. Put up or shut up educationally.”
The suit includes a number of lengthy appendices documenting through report cards, minutes of Educational Planning and Placement Committee meetings, and other records that the children are behind in basic skills.
Plaintiffs in the suit are the children of Annie L. Blair, 1741 Green Road; Charmin L. Brownlee, 1737, 1737 Green Road; Janice Brenen, 1711 Green Road; and Corine Davis, 1713 Green Road.
Kaimowitz, through Michigan Legal Services, Legal Aid of Washtenaw County and with the Student Advocacy Center of Ann Arbor, is filing the suit.
Charged are the Michigan Board of Education, the Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Ann Arbor Board of Education, School Supt. Howard, Director of Pupil Personnel Services Hazel Turner and King principal Rachel Schreiber.
The suit charges that the poor children were classified as having learning disabilities or emotional impairments in disproportionate numbers, and thus were shunted aside into separate special education classrooms.
In a deposition attached to the suit, former school social worker Normal Nickle said of 40 King School children he knew who were tested for possible handicaps, 15 were from the Green Road project. Nickle estimated that only 20-25 Green Road students attended King School, which enrolls more than 500 middle class whites.
The suit contends that the learning difficulties experienced by the children were the result of social and cultural differences rather than a handicap. The suit contends that the schools did hot properly test the children and did nothing to compensate the low-income children for social and cultural deficiencies.
Ann Arbor Board of Education
Ann Arbor Public Schools
King Elementary School
Black English Case
Courts - Federal
Student Advocacy Center
Legal Aid of Washtenaw County
Michigan Board of Education
Ann Arbor News
Annie L. Blair
Charmin L. Brownlee