Lee County schools reaches deal on equal access to course - WRBL

Lee County schools, U.S. Education Department's reach deal on equal access to courses

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The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has reached an agreement with the Lee County school district to ensure all students have equal access to Advanced Placement courses.

OCR reviewed part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and found that African-American students were underrepresented district-wide in AP and high level courses, specifically in mathematics. With this new resolution, however, that's about to change.

In 2008 OCR noticed the problem. In Lee County only two of the four high schools in the district offered AP classes, and they were predominately white. The only predominately black high school, Loachapoka, didn't begin offering AP's until 2008, and they were two online courses in AP US History and AP Biology. By 2010 only one student was enrolled in each class.

OCR assistant secretary Catherine Lhamon says, "That kind of disparity doesn't prepare our kids for success and for college and career-readiness in the way that they're entitled to in the schools."

Since 2008 OCR has been working towards a resolution with Lee County, and they found it with new superintendent Dr. Mac McCoy, who increased the number of AP classes in his old district (Commerce City Schools in Georgia) ten-fold.

"We just look at it as a way that we are going to be able to improve our academic standards for all children," says McCoy, "and we're going to utilize this as a catalyst to get that started."

Many parents say they were unaware that their students weren't being given the same opportunities as others, but now they're excited for the AP's.

Tammy Foster's daughter takes many of the highest level classes offered at Loachapoka. Foster says she's glad her daughter will soon have the chance to take college-level courses, adding, "I feel great about it because she's already an advanced student, and to have the opportunity to have the classes would be excellent."

"It's very doable, and the board is behind it," says McCoy. "The board knows that, in order to provide that, you have to spend some money and they're willing to do that because it is the right thing for students."

Lhamon says, "I'm thrilled with this resolution. It's the best of what schools can do for kids. This is really what's right, and this district is setting a model for what other school districts should be doing for all of our kids going forward."

The first-of-its-kind agreement includes a number of ways to give every student equal access. The district will first identify any participation barriers to African-American students enrolling in AP courses, then establish dual-enrollment courses with local community colleges. They will also encourage all students to attend college, and participate in higher level courses.

Loachapoka's principal Zelda Kitt added that she's very happy about the resolution.

The Lee County school district's budget for 2014 is $90 million. They've agreed to pay for all costs associated with the transition, including AP training for teachers and transportation to get students to the classes at other schools.

Jessi Mitchell

Jessi joined the WRBL news team in October 2012 after working as a freelance production assistant for MTV Networks in Los Angeles.

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