Complaints: Charlotte-Mecklenburg's schools violated civil rights

The Charlotte ObserverNovember 18, 2010 

The U.S. Education Department is reviewing five civil-rights complaints alleging that Charlotte-Mecklenburg's school closings and other assignment changes discriminate against black and Hispanic students.

The department, which does not reveal who files complaints, expects to decide within a couple of weeks whether the complaints merit an investigation.

In a worst-case scenario, a finding that CMS violated federal civil rights laws could block federal money or lead to a Justice Department probe. However, the Education Department tries to negotiate a resolution without resorting to those steps, according to its website.

Education Department spokesman Jim Bradshaw said the first complaint was filed Oct. 29, before last week's vote to close 10 schools and change programs and/or assignments at about two dozen others. Four more were filed after the vote, he said Wednesday.

Most students affected by closings and major changes are black or Hispanic and from low-income homes, prompting some to accuse Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools of racism or class discrimination.

Superintendent Peter Gorman and Eric Davis, the board's chairman, have repeatedly said closings and school mergers were based on empty classrooms and/or academic weakness. They note that CMS spends millions providing extra teachers, supplies and other aid to high-poverty schools serving mostly minority students, and say sacrificing buildings could help protect such aid in the face of huge projected budget cuts.

Parents at Waddell High, which will close next school year, held a news conference the day after the vote urging parents to file complaints with the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights.

"We all need to do this together," parent DeAndra Alex said. "We need to do this proactively, and we need to do this forcefully."

The Charlotte Observer has filed a request for the complaints and any other related documents. The Office of Civil Rights deletes "personally identifiable information" from any information provided, Bradshaw said.

Staff writer Eric Frazier, researcher Maria David and the Associated Press contributed.

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