Feds to investigate civil rights claim against Gwinnett schools

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga.,None — Channel 2 Action News has learned the U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into claims of discrimination against minority and special needs students in Gwinnett County schools.

Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh talked with parents Tuesday who said the district is setting performance expectations based on race. Kavanaugh first spoke to the parents when they filed the complaint in July.

Kavanaugh confirmed the federal government will be investigating their claims that low expectations for some county students are reinforcing the achievement gap.

"When you set the bar low enough, you're sure to hit it," concerned parent, Marlyn Tillman said.

She believes Gwinnett County Public Schools are intentionally setting the bar low for some minorities to achieve testing goals.

The goals are laid out in a contract Gwinnett County has with the state. It's called Investing in Educational Excellence, or IE2. The program gives the district more autonomy in exchange for more accountability.

Tillman and her local parent coalition said the district can hit the goals by lowering expectations for minorities.

"Nobody rises to low expectations," parent Sharon Capers said.

Kavanaugh looked through the contract and found several examples where it appeared benchmarks varied including goals for reading and language arts scores for students at Lilburn's Trickum Middle School.

One set called for 48 percent of white students to meet or exceed test goals and nearly 50 percent of Asian students.

The goal for black students was 26.9 percent and 19.8-percent for Hispanics.

The coalition filed their complaint with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

The OCR sent them a letter Oct. 19 stating it will investigate.

"They've determined that there is something there that's viable to look at," Tillman said.

The Gwinnett County School District said an investigation doesn't mean a complaint has merit.

In a statement from the school district they said in part, "This complaint is not supported by facts and we are confident OCR will agree once they have looked into the matter."

A representative for the Department of Education told Kavanaugh that they aim to complete their investigations within six months.