Just days after the Anne Arundel County branch of the NAACP filed a complaint alleging "disparate treatment" of African-American students and teachers, school board members said the superintendent and school system should be recognized for their continuing efforts to address the matter.
On Tuesday, Superintendent Kevin Maxwell, school system staff, community leaders and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held what the sides called a productive meeting to discuss the complaint. The complaint, filed with the civil rights office of the U.S. Department of Education on July 8, alleges that the number of African-American students referred for discipline and suspended has scarcely changed since the group filed a similar complaint six years ago.
Maxwell and NAACP members said the two sides would hold another meeting in the coming weeks.
School board President Patricia Nalley said that Maxwell has made more of a commitment to address diversity issues within the school system and to be engaged with community organizations than the superintendents who preceded him.
Board member Deborah Ritchie added that the school system needs to do more to publicize the actions it has taken to address the NAACP concerns. "Sometimes we forget to share information that would maybe stop something like that from happening," she said.
NAACP President Jacqueline Allsup said that during the meeting Tuesday, the group discussed the complaint, disciplinary issues and African-American teachers who filed complaints with the NAACP alleging that they have been discriminated against in their evaluations and in the promotion process.
"We ended the meeting with all of us agreeing that we must continue this discussion," Allsup said. "We did not deal specifically with data, only the data that we mentioned in the complaint."
The NAACP complaint says that African-Americans accounted for 36.8 percent of students referred for discipline in the 2004-2005 school year and that the figure rose to 38.1 percent by 2008-2009. It says that African-American students accounted for 42.1 percent of suspensions in 2004-2005 and 41.6 percent in 2008-2009.
African-Americans made up 20.7 percent of the student population for the 2010-2011 school year, consistent with the representation since 2004.
"We agree on the work; I think that is the most important piece of all of this," Maxwell said after the school board's regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday. "I've never said we don't have more work to do and that we don't want to have better results. Our disagreement may fall in just how we accomplish that, and certainly how the whole process was handled."
Maxwell scheduled the meeting when he became aware of the community concerns about the discipline numbers but said of the NAACP's formal complaint, filed before the meeting: "I would have preferred a meeting beforehand, but we have long-time relationships with each other. And maybe it's like marriage and other long-term relationships; every day everything isn't happy. But that doesn't mean the relationship ends.
"I have the utmost respect for the individuals who filed the complaint. I have no questions about their heart and where they lie with that. I'm a lifetime member of the NAACP," Maxwell added. "It's not a question of motivation. It's a question of process and how you best accomplish the work."
Nalley said that she was "disappointed" with the way the complaint was handled.
"I don't think anyone is denying that we have work to do," Nalley added, "but it is disappointing that it was handled that way."
But Allsup said that the complaint had been mailed to Maxwell and school board members and added, "This was not an attempt to try to blindside them in any way prior to the meeting. These are concerns that we've had all along. And what we hope will happen is that we will continue to dialogue and collaborate with each other so we can resolve these issues."
The similar complaint from the NAACP in 2004 led to an improvement plan agreed to in the next year by the NAACP and the school system.
"Six years later, however, there has been no marked improvement in the disparate treatment of African-American students in disciplinary actions, which continues a pattern of denial and limitation of their educational opportunities and thus their future sustainability," the new complaint reads.
Ritchie and board member Eugene Peterson emphasized that 25 percent of Maxwell's senior staff is minority. "He has made remarkable progress in putting African-Americans in positions where they can utilize their talents. We have made tremendous progress," Peterson said.
"Have we done enough? No. In nine years, my biggest problem has been that we haven't found a way to address the percentage of African-Americans in our student population versus the over-representation in suspensions and extended suspensions. That has to change."
The NAACP's formal complaint also names the Anne Arundel County government and Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County as "complicit in the disparate treatment and outcomes for African-American students."
Teachers Association President Tim Mennuti said the union had not received the formal complaint and added, "Until the NAACP gives us the documents, … we have no idea what they're talking about."