In August, Lynchburg City Schools was released from a nine-year agreement with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights aimed at preventing discrimination against black students. During Wednesday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Crystal Edwards shared data showing the progress LCS made and the work still to be done.
The first part of the report, which focused on rigor of students, was compiled by an outside consultant, the Intercultural Development Research Association. The second part, focused on discipline, was compiled by the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium, also an outside consultant.
Edwards said the number of black high school students taking AP courses increased in 27 of the 53 total Advanced Placement courses from 2013 to 2017. The number of white students also increased in 23 AP courses. In the same time frame, black student enrollment increased from zero to three students in the Central Virginia Governor’s School for Science and Technology.
In 19 of the 53 advanced high school classes, the gap between the number of enrolled black and white students grew, while in 33 of the courses the gap shrunk.
Additionally, Linkhorne Middle School showed the percentage difference between black and white students in all advanced courses grew. Linkhorne had the highest white student enrollment in most advanced courses and grade levels.
Of all LCS middle schools, Sandusky Middle School had the smallest percentage differences between black and white students and the lowest white student enrollment in advanced courses.
The discipline section of the report found that the percentage of black students who were given referrals — disciplined by faculty — at least once during the school year dropped by more than 10% at both Heritage and E.C. Glass high schools.
Six of the middle schools also saw double-digit drops in the percentage of black students who were disciplined.
The report also stated the “number and percentage of African American students referred are still much higher than the referral percentage for white students when compared against their respective population percentages.”
In all 16 schools, there were more referrals for disorderly conduct and insubordination for black students than for white students.
Board member Sharon Carter said she was concerned by how subjective student discipline can be in the classroom following a conversation about faculty training.
“Sometimes changing the teachers’ perspectives on the students coming into the class [is important],” Carter said.
Throughout the voluntary agreement, LCS focused on two goals: “increase the number of African American students participating in gifted programs and Advanced Placement coursework” and “reduce the disproportionate representation of African American students subject to exclusionary discipline practices,” according to a letter from OCR.
The DOE conducted a compliance review of LCS from 2010 to 2014 and assessed the district’s two high schools, three middle schools and 11 elementary schools.
OCR collected and reviewed the years of information on LCS — from 2008 to 2011 — and looked at programs, courses, enrollment, learning opportunities, Advanced Placement and Dual Credit courses and any possible barriers to college or career readiness.
This review, which was completed in 2014 and led to the agreement, found that “there is a significant disparity between the numbers of African-American and white high school students who take AP and advanced courses,” according to OCR documents.
Board Member James Coleman asked how to practically continue working toward resolving disparities in the schools.
“Now the agreement is lifted. … How does the board or how does the community begin to tackle this?” he said. “We have so many moving pieces.”
Edwards added she is hoping to find a way to train teachers annually on topics such as cultural response in teaching, creating an inclusive classroom environment and how to respond to student behaviors.
“The ban has been lifted, but the work didn’t stop,” Edwards said. “This is what we look like; this is a reflection of the past. How different are we now?”
Olivia Johnson covers the city of Lynchburg for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5537.