NAACP wants U.S. to probe Coatesville school complaints

Joan Duvall-Flynn from the state NAACP. (Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer/File)

COATESVILLE Citing allegations of bias against minorities in student discipline and special education, the Pennsylvania NAACP has recommended that the U.S. Justice Department monitor the Coatesville Area School District and investigate whether it is complying with federal law.

The NAACP report, released publicly Friday, also called on the school district to do a better job of evaluating children with special needs, transporting them, designing their school year, and providing alternative instruction.

After racist text message exchanges between two district administrators involving students and staff were discovered during the summer, the NAACP's education committee undertook a five-month study of district practices.

At hearings, the NAACP heard complaints about bias in special education, student discipline, and a lack of communication with residents, said Joan Duvall-Flynn, head of the committee.

School board member Laurie Knecht said the board is still reviewing the NAACP's report and soon will make decisions on what actions to take.

Duvall-Flynn said she had hoped the district would have made decisions by Saturday morning, when Duvall-Flynn will answer questions about the proposals during a public conference call.

Knecht said that when the board met with NAACP officials, "They said, 'These are just our recommendations, and you have to decide what's best for your community.' "

At NAACP hearings in October, special-education advocates complained that the district treated families of low-income minority children with disabilities unfairly. An NAACP Education Law Center representative said the district expelled minority students at higher rates than others.

Responding to those hearings, then-acting Superintendent Angelo Romaniello said in a statement that the district was unaware of any unfair treatment and that it would look into every potential allegation. However, it was unclear if any actions were taken.

"We have proposed steps the district can take to mitigate the community's concerns," Duvall-Flynn said. "We propose these steps will heal the rift between the district and its constituents. We hope that they will take them."

According to the report, residents said the district had intimidated parents of special-education students and their advocates during meetings about individual students.

The committee suggested that the Justice Department investigate whether the district is complying with the requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

It said the Office of Civil Rights should monitor private meetings about student's special-education services between parents and district employees. It also recommended that the district recruit a committee of parents of special-education students to hold information sessions for the public.

In the report on student discipline, the committee recommended that district administrators take professional development courses from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, clarify when the police should be involved in student discipline, address excessive suspensions, and teach employees how to better reinforce positive student behavior.

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond