U.S. Education Department Reaches Agreement with Lee County, Ala., School District on Equal Access to Advanced Placement Courses, High–Level Learning Opportunities for African American Students

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U.S. Education Department Reaches Agreement with Lee County, Ala., School District on Equal Access to Advanced Placement Courses, High–Level Learning Opportunities for African American Students

September 10, 2013

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced today that it has entered into a first-of-its-kind resolution agreement in Alabama. The Lee County School District entered into an agreement to ensure that all students, including African American students, are provided an equal opportunity and equal access to Advanced Placement (AP) courses and other higher-level learning opportunities that will provide students with the skills necessary for success in college and careers.

Under the agreement, the district will:

  • Develop a comprehensive district-wide plan for addressing the underrepresentation of African American students in AP and higher level courses;
  • Identify any barriers to African American students' participation in AP and higher level courses, and ensure that African American students have an equal opportunity for participation in the courses;
  • Permit students to participate in distance learning opportunities at schools providing more AP and higher level options;
  • Establish dual-enrollment courses with the local community college for students at the predominantly African American high school and provide transportation for all students who elect to take dual-enrollment courses;
  • Encourage students at all of the district's elementary, middle, and high schools to aspire to attend college, and to participate in AP and higher level courses.

The district's comprehensive plan will be based on recommendations from an expert consultant, feedback from students, parents and staff, and a comprehensive self-assessment.

"We look forward to working with the Lee County School District administrators to ensure that all students have equal access to a quality education, and are pleased that the district has taken positive steps to increase college-ready access through raising the enrollment of black students in AP and other higher level courses," said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights. "The Lee County School District has been a partner throughout this process and I applaud the steps the District is taking to help ensure their compliance with our civil rights laws to serve all students."

OCR initiated a compliance review under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to address whether the district is providing African American students with equal access to AP courses and other higher-level learning opportunities.

OCR's investigation focused on African American students' access to advanced courses, especially in math, in the district's middle schools and on the availability of advanced, honors, and AP courses at the high school level.

Students must receive adequate preparation in earlier grades in order to succeed in AP and higher level courses in high school--access to advanced courses at least by the time students are in middle school is essential in preparing students to take rigorous courses in high school and to provide them with the skills necessary for success in college and career.

From the inception of the review, the district worked collaboratively with OCR. The district voluntarily entered into a resolution agreement prior to OCR's making a finding.

The investigation revealed, however, that a disproportionately low number of African American students were enrolled in eighth-grade algebra, which sets students on the course path for completion of the district's highest level course offerings in math and science, including AP courses. Also, advanced math was offered in the seventh grade at the district's predominantly white middle schools; it was not offered at the predominantly African American middle school.

The investigation also showed, during school year 2010-2011, African American students were underrepresented district-wide in AP and high level courses, including in all higher level mathematics courses, where the underrepresentation was particularly pronounced in calculus and statistics courses.

The district's predominantly white high schools offered a large overall number of higher level and AP courses; either regular or AP calculus, higher level courses in the social sciences, an advanced foreign language, and a wider range of AP courses. There were significantly fewer higher level and AP courses offered at the district's predominantly African American high school, and only online AP courses were offered at that high school.

OCR will monitor this agreement until OCR has determined that the district has fulfilled the terms of the agreement and is in compliance with the regulation implementing Title VI.

A copy of the resolution letter is posted here and the agreement here.

OCR's mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001.

Additional information about OCR is available at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html.