DURHAM — The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a federal complaint against Durham Public Schools, alleging discrimination against Latino students and their families.
Last month the national civil rights organization sent a letter to DPS stating that it planned to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education if the system didn't immediately curb the alleged discrimination.
Attorney Jerri Katzerman, director of educational advocacy for the Montgomery, Ala., based nonprofit organization, said the school system responded with a vague promise to look into the concerns. Katzerman said the law center sought a forum, or some type of mediation, to discuss the incidents in its letter.
"We just feel we raised significant and substantial issues," Katzerman said. "We provided a great deal of information and detail, and we were just hoping for a commitment."
DPS is working to investigate the concerns, said Tahira Stalberte, spokeswoman for the system. "We are committed to providing appropriate services to all students in DPS and to complying with the requirements of federal law in serving students of all nationalities."
The law center's letter contended that DPS has failed to comply with federal regulations that require the system to guarantee all children and parents equal access to public education.
The letter criticized the system for employing only three "qualified" interpreters to serve at least 6,080 households it says can't communicate with their children's schools. Of those students, 5,316 are primary Spanish speakers, according to the letter.
Other claims allege that a substitute teacher singled out Rogers-Herr Middle School students because of their Hispanic ancestry, and that a Hillside High official asked a Hispanic student who was attempting to enroll to provide a passport and immigrant visa, "something never requested of non-Latino students," the letter states.
Katzerman said the U.S. Department of Education is investigating the allegations. The department is in charge of interpreting federal statutes, and remedies for noncompliance could include withholding federal funding, Katzerman said.
Meanwhile, on Friday the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to school officials across the nation outlining federal law that requires systems to "provide all children with equal access to public education."
"Recently, we have become aware of student enrollment practices that may chill or discourage the participation, or lead to the exclusion, of students based on their or their parents' or guardians' status," the letter states. "These practices contravene federal law."
email@example.com or 919-564-9330