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updated: 4/25/2012 11:38 PM

U-46 minority students more often accepted to gifted programs

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Hispanic and black students in Elgin Area School District U-46 were accepted into the district's gifted high school academy at a higher rate than their white counterparts, a former director of gifted education testified Wednesday during the federal bias suit against the district.

Steve Klein, who was program director from 1994 to 2007, rejected claims in the suit accusing the district of discriminating against minority students by placing them in older schools and denying access to gifted programs after redrawing boundaries for the 2004-2005 school year.

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"If I recall, African American and Hispanic students, if they applied, had a better chance of being accepted than their white counterparts," Klein said.

Edward Druck, attorney for the district, reviewed the percentage of students who applied and the percentage of students who were accepted in the gifted and talented academy at Elgin High School in the 2007-2008 school year.

In that year, Hispanic students accounted for 9 percent of the applicant pool and made up 15 percent of the total acceptances. Black students accounted for 3 percent of the applicant pool and 5 percent of the acceptances. Meanwhile, white students made up 76.5 percent of applicants and 71.67 percent of students accepted.

Furthermore, Klein supported the district's gifted programs known as a School Within a School for native English speaking students and another Spanish English Transition School Within a School for students who gained proficiency in English.

Stewart Weltman, attorney for the families who filed suit against the district in 2005, said even though native English speaking Hispanic students make up 24 percent of the student population, only 2 percent participated in the gifted program for English speaking students.

However, Klein said, the goal is to include about 2 percent of a given population in a gifted program.

Furthermore, Denise Lockwald, principal at Sunnydale Elementary School in Streamwood, said some students who were not proficient in English were placed into the transitional gifted class.

"When students go in, they have a lot of gifted qualities but their English proficiency is not where it needs to be academically," Lockwald said.

Cindy Wendt, a sixth-grade Spanish English Transition School Within a School teacher at Sheridan Elementary in Elgin, underscored the need for the program, giving the court examples of students who benefitted from the language supports provided in the transitional program.

"Just because their language ability is not developed doesn't mean they are not highly cognitive," Klein said.

The case is on hold now until May 15.

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