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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Little Rock school superintendent vows full review of allegations of mistreatment of Latino students

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2012 at 3:47 PM

PROMISES REVIEW: Little Rock School Superintendent Morris Holmes talks to reporters Wednesday afternoon.
  • Brian Chilson
  • PROMISES REVIEW: Little Rock School Superintendent Morris Holmes, with Board president Jody Carreiro in background, talks to reporters Wednesday afternoon.

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At 3:40 p.m., the Little Rock School District sent an announcement of a 4 p.m. news conference by Superintendent Morris Holmes to address information we reported in this week's cover story in the Arkansas Times, on-line since last night but just now being distributed in print.

It's about a four-year study of mistreatment of Latino students in the district at the alleged hands of black students, a pattern that sociologist Dr. Terry Trevino-Richard of UALR says has continued despite his efforts over four years to bring the matter to attention of school officials. The article quoted a district spokesman as saying it would "thoroughly review and verify the concerns and pointedly deal with the same..."

Early Twitter reports from reporters indicate Holmes has acknowledged the gravity of the information contained in our report. Holmes, joined by School Board President Jody Carreiro and other school officials, promised a full investigation. Early report from Channel 4 here. The district says Trevino-Richard is credible, but repeated, as it told us, that it wasn't aware of the problems or would have acted sooner.

Trevino-Richard has said he provided Holmes and the previous superintendent, Linda Watson, with detailed information before. For example:

* This overview, reportedly given to Holmes, covering 2007-10.

* This summary of focus group comments of Hall High students in 2010-11.

But Holmes, and two principals of schools where problems were reported who attended the news conference, said that Trevino-Richard had not spoken to them. And district officials complained that Trevino-Richard had not provided full and detailed accounts of his findings, only summaries. Without names and other specifics, it is impossible to check many of the allegations, officials have said.

Holmes gave out a copy of a letter he sent to members of the School Board today.

In his remarks, Holmes said "I suspect there's a lot of truth" in the allegations made in the summaries provided by Trevino-Richard, and that he would pursue wrongdoers like "Ahab pursued Moby Dick."

Holmes also said that if a citizen had information about bullying or sexual harassment, that person would "have no right to withhold the information," because that would be "against the law." Asked afterward if he was saying he thought Trevino-Richard had broken the law, he said no, that he was only speaking in broad terms.

Holmes added that he has made efforts to bring Hispanic administrators into the district, sending recruiters to west to Colorado and south Texas, but without much success.

After the meeting, the principals of Wakefield and Chicot elementary schools told the Times that their schools, both around 31 or 32 percent Hispanic, were having none of the serious problems Richard described, though Wakefield Principal Les Taylor said that inconsequential acts had been reported by all ethnicities, and wondered if Trevino-Richard's definition of bullying was the same as the children's.
—Leslie Peacock

UPDATE: We've reached Trevino-Richard briefly by e-mail. He reiterated that he presented "full executive summaries" of the Operation Intercept study to Dr. Holmes and Dr. Watson, and said that he has communication with the LRSD confirming his appointment to speak with Holmes.

"I have the Executive Summary report that we provided to Dr. Holmes as well as the communication confirming our appointment," Trevino-Richard wrote just before 7:30 p.m. "With both Drs. Watson and Holmes, we presented full Executive Summaries to make sure they were aware of the problems."

In a later e-mail, Trevino-Richard recalled the presentation to Holmes as "actually a very positive one. We established a very solid rapport. Dr. Holmes asked me to develop a Strategic Planning Report for Latinos in the LRSD... When we met, he was provided with an full Executive Summary. There was NO issue which was not discussed during our meeting."

Asked why he thinks Holmes might say he'd never spoken with Trevino-Richard about the study, Trevino-Richard said: "perhaps a very, very short memory."

We have requested that Trevino-Richard provide copies of the correspondence with the LRSD that he said was exchanged in setting up that meeting with Holmes, and will update the Arkansas Blog as information becomes available.

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