Carver Academy program will transition to other schools

FRANKFORD — Indian River School District will transition its G.W. Carver Academy alternative school program next year as part of a resolution to a lawsuit that claimed the district disproportionately used the academy as a “punitive dumping ground” for black students.

In its 2016 suit filed in U.S. District Court for Delaware, the Coalition for Education claimed the Indian River School District historically removed African American students from mainstream schools and sent them to Carver, a special-purpose school operated by the district.

“What we wanted to do was to make sure again that no child was left behind in the settlement, and that we wouldn’t have to be sending from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse,” Rev. Claudia Waters, president of the Coalition for Education.

“What we wanted to do was to make sure that a placement would be given to where the resources would be given to all of these students who had special needs, and that the funding would be used directly for that.”
Indian River School District Superintendent Mark Steele said the consent order outlining the changes makes sense.

“What we’ve been doing — and this is what people don’t realize — is for the past three or four years we’ve actually been decreasing the number of kids in that (Carver) program. The big reason being we’ve been getting funding for resources for mental health issues,” said Mr. Steele. “Since we’ve been getting that, we’re able to offer certain services within the schools now that we weren’t before.”

“We are not ‘discontinuing’ the program per se. We’re just doing a different model and we’re putting it in various schools instead of in that center,” said Mr. Steele. “It really made sense for us to do the consent order.
“If you read that consent order, it is very clear: neither side is guilty of anything. Nobody is admitting anything wrong on either side. It just happened to be that where we’ve gotten with our program that we just kind of felt, ‘Why continue and take this to court?’”

The changes will start with the 2020-2021 school year.
Charles Bireley, president of the Indian River School District Board of Education, said, “It is my understanding that the students that are there (Carver) now would go to a different set of places, not any particular one, wherever they would be able to handle that type of student, whatever their program is.”
The G.W. Carver Academy is an alternative school focusing on students’ academic, behavioral and personal needs.
In the lawsuit, the coalition claimed the Indian River district disproportionately assigns African-American students to Carver under the pretext that they are “troublemakers.”
Formed in 2010, the Coalition for Education is an unincorporated association of concerned community members working to promote the educational success of minority students in the IRSD.
According to the coalition’s suit, during the 2015-16 school year, African-American students comprised only 13.3 percent of the overall student population in the IRSD but comprised 42.9 percent of the Carver Academy population.
The lawsuit states in each of the previous years, dating to the 2011-12 school year, African-American students accounted for more than 41.2 percent of Carver’s population, and the percentage of black students at that school was more than half in 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15.
“There is data that has shown that these children were moved out of their remedial schools and sent over to Carver on suspensions as well as expulsions for their behavior. Yes, that is why they were placed there,” said Rev. Waters.
“But now we have the program that is moving them out and sending them back to the remedial schools, or their home schools, so that they can enter into a program that they are telling me that they have set up to give them better resources.”
“We wanted them to make sure they took a closer to look at the program and to be able to implement it for justice for these children,” said Rev. Waters.
Mr. Steele said satellite programs have been in place at the district’s two high schools, Sussex Central and Indian River, for several years. Thus, those students that would have been sent to Carver remained at their home school.
“By doing the program that way … the population at Carver was dwindling majorly,” said Mr. Steele, adding it was down “in the teens.”
“I personally have struggled with operating out of a building a program with so few kids in it, that we were spending what I thought was an awful lot of money where we could put that money wisely elsewhere, and we could offer the same services to the kids just in a different manner.”
Talk of a potential settlement was presented in executive session during the October board of education meeting with the district’s attorney, David Williams, in attendance, Mr. Bireley said.
“I guess they felt like they had reached an amicable decision,” Mr. Bireley said. “I hope it was the right decision, because my argument all along, the students, in my opinion, that we had in that building did not deserve to be in the regular setting. It was causing issues at other buildings.”
“Like if you had a child that would normally try to go to Carver, and they now are saying that they would stay in their regular setting — that is not a good thing, either,” said Mr. Bireley. “They cause issues for the regular kids, the parents and the teachers. These teachers at Phillip Showell (Elementary), for example, who are trying to do the best job that they can do, they don’t need that type of interference. I know the child can’t help it. You know there are issues. They need to be placed in another setting. So, hopefully that is what we are going to do.”
The coalition sought no monetary damages in its suit.
“All we wanted was justice for these children as far as opening up so that we could see exactly what we had been doing to these children previously to the lawsuit in 2016,” “There was never a settlement to where there was monetary,” Rev. Waters said.
“I think it’s so sad that it took them this long. But again, we should have been better aware of what we were doing to these special-needs children. I am grateful that after this long time they have made a step forward by signing the consent form as to what we were saying in the beginning to try to help these children,” she said.
Carver Academy is based in the G.W. Carver Education Center, which houses several other programs, including the T.O.T.S. (Transitional Our Toddlers to School) early childhood program and TAPP (Transition and Parallel Program), a program for 18 to 21-year-olds with special needs that teaches functional life and job skills.

Those programs will remain, and the district will assess possible use of the additional space at the Carver Center, according to Mr. Steele.
“We’re using 200 to 220 spaces for the T.O.T.S. program. That leaves about 400 spaces,” he said. “That was the other reason we moved in this direction because it is going to enable us to utilize a little bit of space which are in desperate need of.”

“And I’ll stand by it right now: Nothing was ever done wrong at the Carver building. It just was not,” Mr. Steele said. “It’s just now where we have the resources available, we don’t have to house the kids in one building. We are not limited anymore.”

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