Racism? Profiling? Prejudice? Or Incompetence? The Tale of One Student, Zoned for Butler.

If you think there is no systemic racism in the Huntsville City Schools, perhaps you could explain to me why, without even opening her record, a Mexican girl who transferred from Butler to Lee in 2010 was automatically enrolled in Lee’s remedial classes.

Oh, but you say, this happened 4 years ago, pre-Wardynski. True, but it was the same Board of Education with the exception of Culbreath. And considering the hostility of Wardynski to transfers within the system, it would surprise me to learn that transfer students are now treated with respect. Or given a chance at least.

OK, you object, this was one counselor’s decision. I met with this counselor the next year and found her, as kids had told me, to be a pleasant person who seemed to care about her students. A meeting that should have taken 15 minutes took at least 90 because she was interrupted repeatedly by kids who needed help. If the events that transpired in the letter here were of her making, they were in the context of the HCS’ culture.

The story is laid out in this letter of complaint I sent to Lee. I’ve changed the girl’s and parent’s names.

“I am contacting you on behalf of the mother of one of your freshman students, Maria Garcia. Her mother, Ana Garcia, has fairly good oral comprehension of English but still feels inhibited when she tries to speak in formal situations.

“I have known the Garcia family for six years and was instrumental in Maria’s enrollment in Holy Family School after she completed 5th grade at University Place since we were all dubious about the atmosphere at Ed White Middle School. Maria was zoned for Butler High and entered Lee under the No Child Left Behind provisions.

“My understanding from Maria and her mother is that they are concerned that nevertheless she is in fact at risk of being left behind since at Lee she was scheduled into classes that seem very basic to her, especially her math class. Maria wants to go to college. She is a bright young lady and should go to college.

“If her placement was based on her final grades at Holy Family, there are a few things that should be considered. First, Holy Family uses a traditional grade scale [A 93-100; B 84-92; C 74-83; D 65-73; F 64 and below], so an 83, which would be a mid-level B in the Huntsville City Schools, is a C at Holy Family. Secondly, at least half, perhaps three-quarters, of Holy Family’s graduates go on to Catholic High, which is a college prep school (more than 60% take at least one AP course, 100% college acceptance rate). Unfortunately, although she was accepted to Catholic High, her family could not afford the $6,900 tuition, and so instead are trying to get her the best education they can at Lee.

“Maria tells me that she has been to see you and her understanding is that she will need to wait until her sophomore year before her placements can be re-evaluated. The logic of this is hard to see: why not make the decision now, and let her start getting challenged during the second semester of her freshman year?

“May I ask you to please talk with Maria and explain what Lee has to offer her? Perhaps that would be enough, or we could arrange a conference with you, me, Maria and her mother. Should you have any questions, I can be reached at xxx-xxxx.”

Maria’s schedule was re-cast that same week.

So what do we have here? Was Maria pipe-lined into remedial classes because she was Mexican? Because she was zoned for Butler? Because she was presumed to have gone to a Butler feeder school? Or all of the above?

There’s been a lot of insulting, condescending editorializing over at al.com this week about the need for parental involvement. This girl’s parents cared about her education, although they have little themselves. They did not, however, know how to work the system.

What became of Maria? Despite never seeming to spend a moment studying, she made As and Bs at Lee, but never had much interest in her classes. By the end of her sophomore year, she had lost a lot of her sparkle and ambition.

Her parents sent her back to Mexico to live with her grandmother. They thought she would be safer there and would get a better education. She excelled, and is now in college.

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