Share this article

print logo

Buffalo district offers new response to federal complaint on discrimination in top schools

The Buffalo Public Schools will immediately abandon its practice of using absolute cutoff scores on IQ and entrance exams to disqualify children seeking to gain entry into the city’s top schools, according to the latest district response to a federal complaint regarding discrimination at schools that have admissions standards.

Instead, schools such as City Honors and the two Olmsted lower and upper schools will use a cumulative scoring system that integrates entrance exam scores with other admissions criteria, including state test scores.

The district also will create dual-language immersion schools that would have admissions standards. The district previously rejected the idea. And the district also accepts the eventual creation of a regional magnet school that would extend beyond the City of Buffalo.

These are among a series of changes the district has made to answer concerns raised by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The revised recommendations were shared with the School Board on Wednesday.

Federal education officials previously rejected the School Board’s proposal to answer recommendations made by consultant Gary Orfield of the UCLA Civil Rights Project. A letter from the Office of Civil Rights noted about 10 specific problems that the board’s plan failed to address.

Other critics of the original district response said that it did not go far enough and failed to address the most dramatic recommendations, including one to open a second City Honors School and another to eliminate neighborhood preference for those living in Elmwood Village to attend Frederick Law Olmsted School.

The new response by the district accepts 15 of Orfield’s recommendations and modifies nine others. The first response accepted only five of Orfield’s recommendations, rejected one and modified all the rest.

Superintendent Kriner Cash said the new response to the Office of Civil Rights is more detailed and pursues a more aggressive timeline for implementation. While the district’s original response was 12 pages, the new one is 40. And unlike the previously submitted response, the new one also explicitly lists which district administrators are responsible for shepherding through each priority.

The new plan is meant to address deficiencies from the previous one, which largely departed from the recommendations that Orfield made. He was hired to review the district’s standards and admissions practices as part of a settlement of the original complaint.

“We invite and expect vigorous community dialogue about these important long-standing issues that affect all of our children,” Cash told The Buffalo News after his verbal presentation to the board.

The most recent response by the district to the Office of Civil Rights still does not accept some recommendations, including a second City Honors. Neither does it agree to immediately end the neighborhood preference for the city’s only gifted-and-talented elementary school, Olmsted School 64.

Instead, the district’s response eliminates some vague language, provides more detailed timelines and includes more specific and definite plans to address Orfield’s original recommendations in some way.

For instance, in response to the original recommendation that the district create two new criteria-based schools each year, the district originally responded by saying that it would “explore” the idea. In this new response, it gives specific examples of new schools that it intends to open.

That list includes the Emerson School of Hospitality Annex that was opened this year, and a new Montessori High School and Research Laboratory High School, which would open next year, and a gifted-and-talented program to be housed at Marva J. Daniel Futures Preparatory School. Many of these new schools had been previously discussed and supported by the board but were not included in the context of the Office of Civil Rights plan.

In regard to opening a second City Honors School, the district responds that it will explore the creation of two new criteria-based high schools, which is part of Orfield’s recommendations. The district does not, however, accept the creation of a City Honors II. The plan also does not commit to ending neighborhood preference for Olmsted School 64, but as with the previous plan, commits to “expanding citywide enrollment” and increasing the number of underrepresented students.

The revised response is due to be submitted to the Office of Civil Rights on Friday. Cash said that board approval is not required but that he is interested in feedback from the board prior to submitting the response.

Board member Larry Quinn expressed reservations that the response to the Office of Civil Rights doesn’t actually address enough of the district’s needs to improve student performance, such as the promotion of charter schools.

“We can change criteria till the cows come home, and the kids still aren’t learning,” Quinn said.

For a summary of Wednesday’s board meeting, review live coverage on the School Zone blog at email: