Durham school board rejects proposal for all-male academy

jporter@newsobserver.comJune 27, 2013 

— School board members voted down a proposal to develop an all-male academy Thursday evening following two hours of emotionally charged discussion.

The motion failed in a 3-3 vote. A follow-up motion to review male achievement in Durham Public Schools at an August committee meeting passed the board 5-1.

Board Chairwoman Heidi Carter and members Leigh Bordley and Natalie Beyer voted against the motion.

Beyer said the information distributed in the meeting’s agenda packet did not include information on the issue. “... so we can’t be clear what we’re voting on. It’s such a complex issue, it needs elucidating,” she said.

Board member Frederick Davis said the board was voting on a task force’s recommendation that DPS develop a single-gender academy with a year-round calendar aimed at improving academic performance and outcomes for male students.

“It didn’t say disadvantaged,” Davis said. “It didn’t say low-achievers. It said male students in Durham public schools. I just had to say that for the record. That was the task force’s entire recommendation.”

“There’s some lack of clarity around whether this would be a freestanding school in a building that we’re going to renovate or whether it will be a school in partnership with a charter entity,” Carter said.

Also, the issue of whether there would be an all-female school to follow in the interest of gender equality was also unclear.

“We’d be legally liable if we don’t have a discussion about girls,” Carter said. “Generally, you would have to have a comparable school for girls.”

DPS attorney Kenneth Soo said he would prefer to discuss that issue with the board in closed session.

Supporters of the academy – including Superintendent Eric Becoats, who was on the task force – point to achievement gaps between male and female students. Durham Public Schools data show girls are higher achieving than boys in math and reading in grades 3-8, and in algebra and English.

The task force recommendation notes the achievement gap exists across all races and ethnic groups but is bigger among black and Hispanic students than among whites.

The vote comes in the midst of a federal civil rights investigation into disproportionately high suspension rates of black and disabled students in Durham schools.

If the school targeted minority students, it could pose an issue under the 14th Amendment, according to Dana Thompson Dorsey, an assistant professor in the UNC School of Education and a lawyer specializing in school law and education policy.

“The courts have not really addressed single-sex schools in a public school setting,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “... if they want to target race, they would have a better shot setting up as a charter school with a lottery, but they would still have to have permission to discourage people from applying.”

Becoats said Thursday night that setting up the school as a charter would not be out of the question.

Porter: 919-593-7884

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