A group of parents on Monday accused Upper Dublin schools of discriminating against black students by giving them disproportionately more out-of-school suspensions and placing them in lower-level courses.
In a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, a group called Concerned African American Parents (CAAP) alleges that black students comprised 7.3 percent of Upper Dublin's 4,232 students last year but received 45 percent of the suspensions.
Filed for the parents by the Public Interest Law Center, the complaint also says that not one black student was in the gifted program in the district's four elementary schools and middle school.
"The district's practices reflect a national trend of excluding African American kids from higher-level courses and feeding them into lower-level or even special education classes," attorney Sonja Kerr said in a statement. "We're asking the Department of Education to examine this trend in Upper Dublin."
Contacted shortly after the complaint was filed Monday, School Board President Art Levinowitz and Superintendent Deborah S. Wheeler said they were not aware of the claims and could not comment.
Asked about the ongoing concerns of the black parents' group, Wheeler said she would make a statement after seeing the complaint.
Tina Lawson, a member of CAAP who has three students in district schools, said parents for years have met with school officials to try to resolve their concerns about their children.
"We get the runaround," she said. "Nothing ever comes from the meetings. They may promise, but nothing ever happens."
Lawson said the group wants the district to eliminate the lowest of its three tracks, which has a disproportionate number of students of color and where "unfortunately, not a lot of learning goes on." Without that bottom track, students would be integrated into higher-level courses, Lawson said.
"There's a stigma with track three," Lawson said.
Lawson said that last year, Wheeler and other school officials promised CAAP that the district would eliminate the bottom track. But in a meeting that Lawson said took place on Martin Luther King's Birthday, Wheeler allegedly told them that school officials were getting pushback from teachers and weren't going to do it this year.
That's when the group members decided "we'd been deceived long enough," and went to the Public Interest Law Center, Lawson said.
The center took up the issue for another Montgomery County school district when it filed a civil rights class-action lawsuit on behalf of black students in Lower Merion in 2007. The plaintiffs in that case ultimately lost before a federal appeals court. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
The difference with this complaint is that the parents are asking the federal government to investigate rather than suing on behalf of a private person, said Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Law Center.
She said it is easier for the Education Department to prove discrimination than a private person. If it decides the district did discriminate, the Education Department can sue the district - although it usually doesn't come to that, she said.
Upper Dublin is a high-performing district that encompasses a 13.2-square-mile swath of Montgomery County where 13 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, according to state data. It is adjacent to the Abington School District.