The clock is ticking for the Buffalo Public Schools to respond to the federal government on the civil rights complaint against the district, but administrators are still toiling over a key issue: opening a second City Honors School.
Superintendent Kriner Cash and his staff have until Friday to submit their response to the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights and, on Wednesday night, asked the School Board at its regular meeting for advice on how to move forward with the recommendation for a City Honors II.
“I want to resolve this with” the Office of Civil Rights, “one way or another,” Cash said.
Cash got an earful. While the superintendent didn’t get a consensus from the factious board, Cash said he heard enough interest from board members to continue exploring the possibility of a second City Honors.
“What I got from it was certainly continue to explore the feasibility of expanding a City Honors program,” Cash said. “I think that resonated.”
Second, he said, was board interest in creating more high-performing elementary schools. Cash called it the best educational discussion he has had with the board during his brief tenure.
The civil rights issue started early last year when the District Parent Coordinating Council filed a complaint with the OCR alleging racial discrimination in the admissions process for criterion schools, including City Honors and Olmsted.
Buffalo Public Schools filed a plan to resolve the allegations, but it was rejected. The government identified about a dozen deficiencies and demanded more information. The district supplied answers, but its response created more questions.
The OCR now wants answers to 53 specific questions, each one asking the district to justify various pieces of its plan – and why it rejected the recommendations of an outside consultant. Those questions include why the plan does not call for a second City Honors School, as recommended by the consultant, and for the elimination of neighborhood preference at Olmsted 64. Both are among the district’s best schools.
The district this year opened a second Emerson School of Hospitality because of demand, said Board Member Barbara Seals Nevergold. Why not a second City Honors?
“I don’t see a problem with it,” Nevergold said. “We know we have an issue of inequity.”
Board members Jason McCarthy and Sharon Belton-Cottman agreed with Nevergold, but Belton-Cottman is not in favor of naming it City Honors II. “No one wants to stand in the shadow of another,” she said.
Board Member Larry Quinn said he wasn’t opposed to a City Honors II, but wants the district to focus more on creating two or three top-performing elementary schools.
Board Member Theresa Harris-Tigg said she first wanted to get the admissions and testing process straightened out at the current City Honors, where the Office of Civil Rights found a disproportionate number of white students admitted.