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Thursday, March 25, 2010

NAACP Vows To Block Wake County Schools' Re-Segregation Plan

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Wake County Diversity Supporters Play Offense

The new Wake County school board majority's plan to abandon the use of socioeconomic diversity will be fought every step of the way by groups that vow to block efforts to implement neighborhood schools.

Supporters of Wake's diversity policy say they're not deterred by the board's 5-4 vote Tuesday to end decades of busing for racial and income diversity in favor of sending children to schools in their communities. The leaders of the largest opposition groups say they plan to scrutinize every step that the board will take over the next nine to 15 months to develop the new system, from lobbying the public to potentially taking legal action.

"We will work to fight their efforts to end socio-economic diversity," said the Rev. William Barber, President of the NC NAACP, on Wednesday. "We will use every legal and moral tool at our disposal."

The calls of defiance were countered with calls for community unity from supporters of the board majority. They urged supporters of the diversity policy to work with the board in developing the details of the new assignment model, which would divide Wake into community school zones.

"The time for fighting is over," said Kristen Stocking, a founder of Wake Schools Community Alliance, a parent group that raised money during the fall campaign to elect four Republican-backed board members.

"The process will move forward over the next few years whether they like it or not. This is the will of the voters."

In addition to intense scrutiny from opponents, the board's majority will deal with challenges such as how the new community-schools system will be implemented during a time of tight budgets and the expectation of renewed student growth. The board also will have the challenge of deciding where to set the boundaries for each zone and what to do with magnet schools.

Since the mid-1970s, racial or socioeconomic status has been a key factor in school assignments for students, who now number about 140,000. The use of socioeconomic diversity for the past decade has won Wake national recognition.

Supporters of the diversity policy had argued that the policy helped the district avoid assigning high proportions of students from low-income families to district schools, which can lead to lower test scores and high teacher turnover; those factors can discourage businesses from moving into the area. Critics argued that the policy allowed the district to hide the poor academic performance and graduation rates of students from low-income families.

As the Tuesday vote neared, the lobbying efforts of supporters of the diversity policy increased, with a candlelight vigil Monday and predictions of re-segregation Tuesday. The board's actions were booed by some in the crowd, with a few protesters creating such a disruption with their chanting that they were arrested.

Supporters of the board said Wednesday that histrionics need to end and that talk about re-segregation is overblown.

"Lay down your candles and your songs and give them breathing room," Patrice Lee, a founder of Wake CARES, a parent group that backs the board majority, said Wednesday at a news conference.

Kathleen Brennan, another Wake CARES co-founder, said "the time for threats, name-calling and dire consequences is over."

But Barber said the NAACP won't give up no matter how long it takes to restore the diversity policy. He noted that it took 58 years for the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse its earlier decision that separate but equal was legal.

Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, which backs the diversity policy, pledged Wednesday to put the new board's plans under the microscope. She predicted that public backlash, which the group will try to heighten, and budget woes will derail the majority's efforts.

"I have faith in the community," Brannon said. "Their core values are stronger than the core values of the five. The community will not let the board vote stand."

But there was at least some talk of conciliation from groups that back the diversity policy. The Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association, a leading local civil rights group, passed a resolution last week in support of maintaining economic diversity. But Dan Coleman, the group's president, said the board's vote "hopefully presents all of us an opportunity to strengthen all of our families and communities as we move forward together."

"The RWCA stands ready willing and able to work with our Board of Education in crafting a new assignment policy that causes all communities to be high functioning and engaged communities," Coleman said.

Tumultuous Session Ends Wake County Schools Diversity Policy

During a tense marathon meeting, the Wake County school board voted to stop busing students for diversity, then cemented that action by taking the first steps toward a community-based system of student assignment.

With a 5-4 vote Tuesday, the Republican-backed board's majority ended more than three decades of having racial or socioeconomic status be a prime factor in school assignments for students, who now number around 140,000.

Instead, they agreed to start assigning students closer to home, even if the change creates more schools with high concentrations of students from poor families. Board member John Tedesco, point man for the resolution, said the system already allows for high numbers of high-poverty schools.

"This gives us our direction now," said Tedesco, who will chair the committee that will split the county into community school zones, a blueprint that will take up to 15 months to develop. "We're now going to community schools. This will give parents more stability."

While the plan for the new community zones is months from completion, the school board majority quickly solidified its vote by making student reassignment decisions showing they're no longer considering diversity.

The board approved measures in the reassignment plan for this fall that would send hundreds of students to schools closer to their homes. In the process, some diversity-related moves made by the old board were reversed.

After nine long hours

The diversity decision came nearly nine hours into a tumultuous day. Chairman Ron Margiotta and his four allies beat back amendments by opponents on the board who didn't want to pass the resolution without more study, more research and more information on its cost.

"If this is going to stand the test of time, it could stand the test of a work session," said opposition member Kevin Hill.

The majority agreed to an amendment by Dr. Anne McLaurin, another opposition member, that inserted language from the state constitution that guarantees all North Carolina children "an equal opportunity for a sound basic education."

Then, member Carolyn Morrison put the majority in the position of having to vote on "a plan that ensures that schools will not become segregated." Ultimately, the majority didn't support Morrison's amendment.

"The eyes of the nation are upon us," Morrison said.

Tedesco sharply disagreed with the charge that ending the diversity policy will lead to re-segregation. "That doesn't happen today. The fact is, the laws of the state of North Carolina and the Federal Government are sufficient to make sure that does not occur."

During a public comment period, police removed more than 20 people, mostly in their teens and early 20s, who sat in the hallway outside the meeting room and pierced the proceedings with loud chanting: "No Re-Segregation in our town! Shut it down!"

During a public comment period before the full board, about 75 percent of the speakers voiced opposition to the resolution that would lead to fundamental change in the way students are assigned.

Civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers, former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, joined those who urged the board not to abandon its commitment to diversity.

"We are now re-opening a lot of issues and a lot of problems," said Chambers. "I hope you pause a moment and think about the problems you might be creating for the children and the parents you serve."

No Coercion, she says

Wake County parent Debbie Griffith Overby said she loves Wake's diversity, but doesn't believe in making students attend schools for that reason.

"I'm against forced busing," Overby said. "This is the United States of America. People should not be forced in Wake County to do anything they don't want to do."

Before the resolution passed, administrators in the morning work session said that they had already eliminated the use of socio-economic diversity in filling nearly all the magnet schools this year. In the absence of diversity, priority was given to applicants who had siblings in magnet schools or who were applying from crowded schools.

Previously, priority was also given to applicants from more affluent areas who could help create balance at schools in poor areas.

Only at the Wake Early College of Health and Science, where the goal is to attract prospective first-time college applicants, will diversity be used to pick applicants.

Administrators say 4,589 of the 7,670 magnet applicants, or 60 percent, were placed. Traditionally half or less are accepted.

Keeping cash flowing

Administrators warned that the board will need to act within a month to adopt a voluntary de-segregation plan to keep receiving Federal magnet grants. The diversity policy had been used for previous applications.

The new plan could come in the form of a resolution pledging to keep schools De-Segregated.

National NAACP President Calls For Ron Margiotta To Resign

The national NAACP is now joining the call for Wake County school board chairman Ron Margiotta to resign following his "here come the animals out of the cages" comment at last week's board meeting.

In a press release today, national NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said he's joining the state NAACP in calling for Margiotta's resignation as board chairman. He said Margiotta's comment was 'racially insensitive."

“The racial insensitivity exhibited by Mr. Margiotta underscores the lack of consideration for the interests, needs, and concerns of Blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities in North Carolina,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous in the press releae. “We support the North Carolina NAACP in their call for justice and sensitivity in Wake County, and believe the resignation of Mr. Margiotta is a necessary step in that direction.”

Last week, the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, had said Margiotta was "unfit" to be chairman. Barber used the remark as part of the complaint filed last week with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Margiotta has said he was "out of line" for the remark. But he's denied it had racial intent. He's pointing out that he was upset that a mostly white crowd was booing a black speaker for criticizing the diversity policy.

Here's the press release:


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NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous joined the North Carolina NAACP State Conference in calling for the resignation of Wake County School Board Chairman Ron Margiotta based on comments made by Margiotta the organization deems racially insensitive. In a recent public school board meeting, Margiotta referred to several stakeholders of color as “animals out of their cages.”

“The racial insensitivity exhibited by Mr. Margiotta underscores the lack of consideration for the interests, needs, and concerns of Blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities in North Carolina,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP. “We support the North Carolina NAACP in their call for justice and sensitivity in Wake County, and believe the resignation of Mr. Margiotta is a necessary step in that direction.”

Margiotta’s comments come in the midst of a contentious and racially charged battle over proposed changes to Wake County school district busing policy that will effectively re-segregate the county’s school system. While the battle for good jobs, good schools and economic solutions continue statewide, North Carolina NAACP State Conference President Rev. Dr. William Barber II asserts that attitudes like that of Margiotta will only increase the divide between people of all races who are affected by the surrounding social conditions.

“The vivid imagery evoked by Mr. Margiotta of uncaged wild animals takes another step toward dehumanizing African Americans while trivializing our concerns,” said Barber. “The racial undertones present in Mr. Margiotta’s comments stand to undermine cohesiveness between racial groups at a time when it is most needed as we work together to achieve a better North Carolina for all.”

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

Wake County (Raleigh) Votes To End Public School Busing & Diversity Policy

The new Wake County school board majority plans to put its official stamp Tuesday on sweeping changes that will drop the school district's socio-economic diversity policy and embrace neighborhood schools.

The majority is expected to pass a resolution that calls for children to be assigned to schools within their own communities. Wake, the state's largest school system, would be divided into separate community zones, each with year-round and magnet school options.

The resolution calls for the new system to be phased in over three years, with the board working out details for the zones over the next nine to 15 months.

Board members say most of the changes likely won't go into effect until the 2012-13 school year.

"People are going to know the schools in their community," said Debra Goldman, a member of the new board majority who co-wrote the resolution, on Friday. "I'll know I can be more invested in the schools because they'll still be my schools a few years from now."

But board member Kevin Hill, a member of the minority faction, said things are moving too quickly. He and other supporters of the diversity policy have warned that eliminating it could lead to economic re-segregation of the schools.

Hill said he thought the board was going to have a work session about the direction of student assignment before any changes were voted on.

"I find it perplexing that it will be voted on before we've had a chance to discuss it," he said.

Also on Tuesday, members of the new board majority say they plan to vote on which year-round schools they'll convert to a traditional calendar for the 2010-11 school year. Staff members will make their recommendations on calendar conversions earlier in the day at a work session.

It's all part of a long day of meetings that will begin at 10 a.m. with a closed-door discussion on whether to remove Schools Superintendent Del Burns before his announced June 30 resignation date. After announcing his resignation last week, Burns criticized the new board and its proposed changes, particularly the plan to end busing for socioeconomic diversity throughout the district.

Tuesday also will include the staff's presentation of a proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. It's likely to call for cuts and layoffs of as many as 100 school employees.

But the two items expected to draw much of the public's comments are the votes on the calendar conversions and community-based school assignments. Both were key parts of the campaign platforms of the four new board members who were elected last fall.

Moving Quickly

The four new Republican-backed members, who defeated Democratic-backed opponents, joined veteran board member Ron Margiotta in forming a new ruling coalition on the nine-member school board.

Margiotta and other members of the majority said they want to vote on the school assignment resolution to send a clear message to the community that they're carrying out what they promised to do. The resolution is supposed to guide all other school system actions.

"We're only doing what the community has asked us to do," said Margiotta, who has lobbied for community schools since he was elected in 2003. "There was never any doubt this was going to happen."

Goldman's role in drafting the resolution makes it clear that she backs the majority's efforts to eliminate the current diversity policy in favor of neighborhood schools.

Her commitment to making changes had been questioned after a Wednesday meeting in which she sought more study of the policy before acting. Since then, she hammered out the new resolution with fellow new board member John Tedesco.

The resolution's zone concept has been pushed by Tedesco, chairman of the newly formed student assignment committee. Despite the changes that would emerge, Tedesco said he still expects 75 percent to 90 percent of the county's schools to keep their current calendars and magnet programs.

Limiting The Impact

Magnet school parents and students have been among the most vocal critics of the new board. They fear that the new assignment system will cause many magnet schools to lose their programs.

"I think we can do it in a way that will limit the impact on schools," said Tedesco.

But he said there will definitely be some magnet changes in the next few years, from some schools losing their programs to others getting new ones. The resolution also calls for the immediate elimination of the use of socioeconomic diversity in filling new seats in magnet schools.

Margiotta said the majority is waiting to hear from board attorney Ann Majestic whether the resolution will require one or two votes to be approved.

On the year-round issue, Margiotta said he and other members of the majority want to finalize Tuesday which year-round schools will convert to the traditional calendar by fall. He said it is getting so late in the planning process that the board must act quickly.

"We're trying to give choice to parents," Margiotta said of the conversions. "That's what the public has been telling us. They want the school system to listen to the public."

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Charlotte Schools Block Black Kids From Attending AP Classes

Students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg's high-poverty schools face an "opportunity gap" in access to college-level classes, says a report from a citizen advisory panel being presented today.

Students at several low-poverty suburban schools can choose from more than 20 Advanced Placement subjects this school year, while students at four high-poverty schools have fewer than 10, the report says.

The Equity Committee, appointed by the school board, spent the past year looking at Advanced Placement along with services for students who don't speak English well. The recommendations, designed to boost equal opportunity, are likely to clash with budget-cutting plans.

For instance, the panel recommends that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools do more to increase AP offerings at the high-poverty schools, where most students are Black or Hispanic. The panel also calls for more minority enrollment in AP courses at all schools. But a consultant advising CMS on the likelihood of budget cuts for 2010-11 has suggested cutting some AP classes with low enrollment to focus on boosting basic skills.

"We're just in challenging times right now," said board Vice Chair Tom Tate. "I think that the board is going to have some pretty interesting debate on this."

AP Challenge

AP offerings range from 25 subjects at South Mecklenburg High to seven at Waddell, the report says. Even at schools such as Mallard Creek High and Northwest School of the Arts, which have large numbers of middle-class black students, AP classes are disproportionately white.

Taking AP classes can help students get into competitive universities, and students who earn high scores on the exams can get college credit. "The lack of a diverse range of core and elective AP courses at all schools raises serious equity concerns," the report says.

CMS offers other college-level options, including classes hosted by Central Piedmont Community College and advanced classes in International Baccalaureate magnets. The report did not look at those.

High-poverty high schools tend to have lower enrollments and more students struggling to meet graduation requirements, both of which can make it challenging to fill AP classes. For instance, Waddell offered 10 options on its "enrollment card" last winter but ended up only teaching seven, the report says.

But those schools also have successful college-bound students. The equity panel recommends offering a set number of AP courses at each school, even if enrollment is low, and urges schools to "actively recruit and place students in those courses."

The report says white students make up 37 percent of CMS's high-school students but account for 62 percent those taking of AP exams. Minority students may be hindered by home support, peer culture or low expectations in lower grades, the report says. Recommendations range from recruiting AP teachers "of various ethnic backgrounds" to "cluster(ing) students of racial groups in AP courses in order to provide peer support."

Language Barrier

On students with limited English skills, the report notes that some schools have so many that students may not be immersed in spoken English, while others have so few that it's tough to provide adequate staff support for kids and families.

CMS has eliminated jobs for bilingual parent advocates, even as the number of students whose families speak Spanish and other languages has grown. The committee recommends restoring those jobs at schools with large numbers of families who need translation, noting that parent involvement is essential to student success.

The report describes a visit to Merry Oaks Elementary, where 19 languages are spoken, most children come from low-income homes, and some students "not only don't speak English but may not have any experience with indoor bathrooms or electricity." Committee members saw a woman arrive to enroll a young child, who did most of the translating between his mother and the school secretary. Two hours later, the child and his mother "were still trying to navigate the enrollment process," it says.

The report urges CMS to make sure schools make better use of available translation services and make it easier for families without cars to get to the Family Application Center south of uptown, where international students must register. City buses used to run along that road, the report says, but no longer do.

Once A Leader In School Diversity, Wake County, NC Retrenches

When North Carolina's Wake County Public Schools decided to do away with race-based busing to desegregate schools, local officials came up with a novel solution to maintain balance.

The new method of assigning students by their socio-economic background rather than race helped to keep campuses integrated. Adopted in 2000, it quickly became a blueprint for other school systems.

That policy, however, has never sat well with many suburban parents -- often white and middle class -- who argue that the student assignment plan sends their kids too far from home. And a new school board, swept into office by those vocal parents, appears poised to scrap it in a vote scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

The issue has brought the term "Segregation" and the weight of history into recent school board meetings. Some parents and students around the state capital are now imploring their newly elected leaders to back away from their plan to drastically alter the diversity policy.

"Please preserve the New South. Don't take us back to the Old South", parent Robert Siegel told the school board.

Reversing the diversity rules would follow a cascade of similar shifts around the South, and particularly in North Carolina, which once was a model of desegregation. Now the state is increasingly starting to mirror an era many thought had past: On one side of the state, in the coastal town of Wilmington, an elementary school of several hundred students has just one who is black. On the other, in the banking hub of Charlotte, a primary school of similar size has just one student who is white.

In the military town of Goldsboro, starkly divided schools have led civil rights leaders to accuse local school officials of creating ''an apartheid district.''

Ron Margiotta
, the new board chairman in Wake County, vowed that the change there was in the interest of students because it would allow parents more options and refocus families on the schools in their neighborhood. He bristled at any suggestion that the move had something to do with race.

"It's something that offends me," Margiotta said in an interview. "Nobody's going to go back to Jim Crow days."

The diversity policy in Wake County became a popular model in 2007, when the Supreme Court limited the use of race in how districts assign students. Its current policy sends students to schools to achieve socioeconomic diversity, which also improved racial diversity by frequently sending lower income black children from the city's center to predominantly white schools in the suburbs. Some schools also created magnet programs to attract students from other neighborhoods with advanced courses in foreign language, science and other topics.

Margiotta said the busing program has not helped minority students and has distracted from focusing on stronger education policy.

''What we're doing isn't working,'' Margiotta said.

But Ebere Collins, a black mother of two students in the district, said her son travels one hour by bus to get from his home in Raleigh to a middle school in the suburb of Wake Forest. While the trip is long, she feels it helps her son mingle with people outside of the neighborhood and ensures that all students have access to the same resources.

''Mix them up, let them experience each other,'' she said. ''By scattering them around, they will enjoy the benefits other people are enjoying.''

Gary Orfield, a UCLA professor who studies busing and civil rights, said the entire South has been resegregating for the past 20 years -- which he deemed ''a gigantic historic tragedy.'' He praised Wake County's current policy and warned that a renewed focus on neighborhood school assignment will be most damaging to children who come from poor or uneducated families because those students benefit most from integration.

''What it does when you go to 'neighborhood' schools is it means that you put the kids who are most affected by school opportunity in the schools with the weakest opportunity,'' Orfield said. ''That's a tragedy.''

If the diversity policy is pulled back, Orfield said, Raleigh can expect to see some of the same impoverished, troubled schools as Detroit, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago.

In Charlotte, the site of a groundbreaking Supreme Court case that led to three decades of busing to ensure racial balance, schools have spent much of the past several years resegregating after getting federal court approval to allow parents more choice of where to send their kids.

At Beverly Woods Elementary, just north of the Quail Hollow Country Club that hosts a namesake PGA Tour event, 79 percent of the students are white. A few miles up the road, at Montclaire Elementary, only 4 percent of the students -- just 19 out of 450 -- are white.

There are no plans in Charlotte to revisit busing. Pamela Grundy, a parent in Charlotte who has decried the divisions within the school district, said leaders in Raleigh should take notice.

''The lesson of Charlotte is that desegregation will go away so quickly. Once you lose it, you can't get it back,'' she said.

Obama Admin. Officials Step Up Enforcement of Civil Rights Laws In Education

Seeking to step up enforcement of Civil Rights Laws, the federal Department of Education says it will be sending letters in coming weeks to thousands of school districts and colleges, outlining their responsibilities on issues of fairness and equal opportunity.

As part of that effort, the department intends to open investigations known as compliance reviews in about 32 school districts nationwide, seeking to verify that students of both sexes and all races are getting equal access to college preparatory curriculums and to advanced placement courses. The department plans to open similar civil rights investigations at half a dozen colleges.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is to announce the initiatives in a speech on Monday in Selma, Ala., where on March 7, 1965, hundreds of civil rights marchers were beaten by Alabama state troopers.

Mr. Duncan plans to say that in the past decade the department’s Office for Civil Rights “has not been as vigilant as it should have been in combating gender and racial discrimination and protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities,” according to a text of the speech distributed to reporters on Sunday.

It continues, “We are going to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement.”

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At the end of high school, white students are about six times as likely to be ready to pursue college-level biology courses as Black Students, and more than four times as likely to be ready for college algebra, department officials said. White high school graduates are more than twice as likely to have taken advanced placement calculus classes as black or Latino graduates.

The department enforces civil rights laws in schools and universities by responding to specific complaints from parents, students and others, but also by scrutinizing its own vast bodies of data on the nation’s school and university systems, looking for signs of possible discrimination. A school seen to be expelling Latino students in numbers far out of proportion to their share of the student population, for instance, might become a candidate for compliance review, officials said.

As it seeks to combat discrimination in schools and universities more aggressively, the administration will be acting in an area in which some Supreme Court rulings in recent years have brought more ambiguity. Federal policy for decades had aimed at compelling school districts to end racial inequality, for instance.

But in examining longstanding de-segregation efforts in the Seattle and Jefferson County, Ky., schools in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that school authorities could not seek to achieve or maintain integration through measures that take explicit account of a student’s race, a decision that seemed to reverse the thrust of four decades of federal policy.

Some civil rights advocates said they had hoped the administration would move more quickly last year to ramp up the activity of the Office for Civil Rights, the department’s second-largest, with 600 employees.

“This whole area has been a dead zone for years, and people were worried that new actions were too slow in coming,” said William L. Taylor, chairman of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, a Washington group that monitors federal policy and practices. “There had been strong hopes that they would move more quickly. This sounds like positive movement, which we’ve all been asking for.”

Russlyn H. Ali, assistant secretary of education for civil rights, said in an interview that the department would begin 38 compliance reviews before the current fiscal year ended on Oct. 1. That number compares with 29 such reviews carried out last year, 42 in 2008, 23 in 2007 and nine in 2006, she said.

“But the big difference is not in the number of the reviews we intend to carry out, but in their complexity and depth,” Ms. Ali said. “Most of the reviews in the recent past have looked at procedures.”

In cases analyzing potential sex discrimination, for instance, federal investigators would often check to see if schools and universities had grievance procedures in place, and if so, take no enforcement action, she said.

“Now we’ll not simply see whether there is a program in place, but also examine whether that program is working effectively,” she said.

The department plans to begin a major investigation on Wednesday in one of the nation’s largest urban school districts, Ms. Ali said. She declined to identify it because, she said, department officials were still notifying Congress and others of the plans.

The compliance reviews typically involve visits to the school district or university by federal officials based in one or more of the department’s 12 regional offices.

The department intends to send letters offering guidance to virtually all of the nation’s 15,000 school districts and several thousand institutions of post-secondary education, officials said.

The letters will focus on 17 areas of civil rights concern, including possible racial discrimination in student assignments and admissions, in the meting out of discipline, and in access to resources, including qualified teachers. Other areas include possible sex and gender bias in athletics programs, as well as sexual harassment and violence. Other letters will remind districts and colleges of their responsibilities under federal law with regard to disabled students.

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Sources: NAACP, NY Times, AOL News, NC Policy Watch, WRAL, McClatchy Newspapers, Youtube, Google Maps

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