Tina Lawson’s three children didn’t start off in the Upper Dublin School District (UDSD), but it is where they ended up attending high school.
They were first enrolled in private school, before enrolling in the UDSD located in Montgomery County. Lawson’s daughter graduated from Upper Dublin High School and is now a student at the University of Pennsylvania.
But when one of Lawson’s other children was entering the secondary school, a teacher referred him to a level two track class, which is college level and preparatory course, but she wanted him in level one, which encompasses Advanced Placement and honors.
The district’s track system is set up in three. The first for AP and honors, track two for college level and prep and the last is remedial.
“My son had all A’s in middle school. My son had an A in history and was put in a track two class,” said Lawson, who is the president of Concerned African American Parents, an organization of parents of Black children in the UDSD. “When you have an A you’re supposed to go into honors automatically. Basically the teacher gets to decide, ‘that’s not for you.’”
Lawson was told she could fill out a “Request for Student Placement Against Educational Advice,” (AEA) form, which stated the course or level requested has not been recommended by the district and by signing it a parent is choosing to disregard the advice.
Ultimately, Lawson’s son was permitted to take the class.
“It’s segregation,” said Lawson of tracking. “These children are on this track, and those children are on that track. If you’re on track three and you get to high school, you’re not learning anything.”
Lawson said most African-American students — who CAAP said account for less than 8 percent of the district’s study body — were placed in remedial classes.
“They were going to college and not being able to perform,” said Lawson, also a lawyer. “There’s a disparity in the way our children are being treated and it’s not right.”
The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights is investigating UDSD’s curriculum placement, as well as CAAP’s claims that Black students are suspended from school more.
CAAP is represented by the Public Interest Law Center which filed the lawsuit with the DOE back in fall 2015.
African-American students accounted for 48 percent of out of school suspensions in 2013-14 and 63 percent in 2012-13.
“It’s outrageous, they’re calling the police daily,” Lawson said of the suspensions. “We want all of our children treated the same.”
Superintendent Deborah S. Wheeler acknowledges the district received a letter from the DOE on Dec. 7 and knew of the concerns brought up by CAAP in November 2015. Tracking and suspensions are both concerns for her, she said.
Since September, the high school reduced tracking levels in ninth grade English, social studies and science classes from three to two levels, Wheeler said, adding that beginning in September 2017, the high school will reduce tracking levels from three to two for tenth grade classes.
“We are indeed making corrective actions,” Wheeler said by phone Wednesday afternoon from the district’s office in Maple Glen. “We feel confident we are going in the right direction.”
However, tracking remains, said PILC staff attorney Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg.
“The claims that we made are legally sound and now (DOE) has to investigate further,” he said. “They’re going to request a lot of data. They’re going to do significant fact-finding and determining whether they are accurate.”
As for Lawson, she said she wants children to be given a chance and given the tools they need to flourish in a competitive world. She’s concerned that there is still a level three in mathematics.
“It’s a wonderful new high school,” Lawson said of UDHS. “We’re just hoping that Upper Dublin can live up to it’s motto. I’m not just doing this for my children, I’m doing it for all children.”
The district has four elementary schools, a middle school and one high school.