There’s little doubt that the Fort Worth ISD needed some good news to offset a couple of bouts of negative publicity over the past few months, first with its finance department’s embarrassing admission that the district overpaid employees more than $1.5 million last year and the recent board decision to declare a “financial state of emergency” for the second year in a row that will likely result in laying off employees.
It finally got a break last week.
The U. S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights exonerated the district of discriminating against African-American students and others under Trimble Tech High School ’s application protocols after a nine-month investigation following a complaint filed last June by Rev. Kyev Tatum , head of the TTHS alumni association. Kyev charged that the admission policies were written to exclude blacks, males and learning-disabled students and rested on the fact that prior to 1996 when the admission policy changed, Tech was 50 percent black and that number has now dropped to 18 percent.
“There was no evidence to sustain” the allegations, according to the OCR report, which determined that “ the reduction in the number of African-American students at Trimble Tech corresponds to a drop in the number of applicants.”
Clint Bond , spokesman for the district, said “We’re happy with the outcome [and] were always confident” that Tech’s policies are not discriminatory.
For Tatum , however, the OCR’s reasoning only proved his point. “They’re blaming the minority kids for their failure to apply instead of asking the question ‘why aren’t you applying?’” he said.
Tech, once known as a dumping ground for those too poor or too academically-challenged to go to college, has become one of the district’s better high schools with an “academically acceptable” rating for three years in a row. It is the only high school with no district boundaries and with a policy that allows it to recruit students who must apply to attend the technical/academic school.
In recent years high-performing students from some of the district’s worse-performing schools have been beating a path to Trimble Tech to the dismay of several trustees who claim that Tech’s recruitment policy is creating a “brain-drain” from the mostly minority schools in their district, resulting in those schools’ low-academic performance. One of the complaints was that the recruitment process was narrowly focused on the better-performing middle schools and weighted in favor of high-performing students.
In response, the board changed its policies last February by expanding the recruiting process to all middle schools; removing consideration of the student’s past academic performance as a requirement for admission; and adding transparency to the selection process by having the selection committee broadened to include Tech teachers as well as administrators from the central office.
That still didn’t satisfy the minister and civil rights activist who filed the discrimination complaint four months later. The changed policies only made it harder for minority kids to apply, Tatum said. “Before the policy changed, applications [for admission to Tech] were available at all the middle schools,” he said. “Now the same students have to travel to Tech or the administration building downtown to pick up an application. …There is systemic racism in this policy that says to black and brown students ‘you need not apply,’ and the numbers prove it,” Tatum said. “Why [when blacks and Hispanics are the majority population in the district] are these students only 18 percent of Tech’s population? That’s the question the district needs to answer.”
Tatum said he will appeal the decision and take the district to federal court – if he can find an attorney willing to take it on.
But Tatum lost his fellow civil rights and long-time education activist Eddie Griffin on this one. Griffin, whose kids attended Tech, wrote in an email to the Weekly that he "always believed the federal complaint was like using a scatter gun to kill a gnat. At best, a favorable ruling [for Tatum] would have resulted in the feds or the state monitoring the application process for one school [Tech] and the only one at the time meeting the [state’s] standard. Why drag it down?"
Griffin, a Tech high school volunteer who worked cloesly with the district on the issue said that he and others "successfully implemented the same application process" for all of the schools with career and technical programs similar to Tech’s, thereby bridging the "disparity gap (at least, conceptually and in planning, if not wholly in resource allocation)." Griffin added, "I can expect a civil rights organization like SCLC [which Tatum heads] to sound the trumpet whenever there is discrimination and disparity. I am the activist and advocate who seeks resolution, and how to implement it."
Bond said since the OCR found “no evidence to sustain the [original] charges,” if Tatum continues his fight the district expects the outcome to be the same.