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Ga. District Backs Separate Classrooms for Black Pupils

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Joining a handful of other school districts nationwide, the district serving the city of Savannah and Chatham County, Ga., has agreed to pilot-test separate classrooms for male African-American students taught by male African-American teachers.

The Savannah-Chatham County board of education voted March 3 to accept the recommendations of a task force that studied the high suspension rate for black male students in the district.

The panel concluded that these students are the most at risk for educational failure because many lack male role models and the school system is ill-prepared to deal with "parenting-deprived'' children.

"Disadvantaged black males seem to be victimized in greater proportion than other disadvantaged children, and there is an absence of adult black male role models,'' the task-force report states.

The panel said that the pilot classrooms should be established by next fall for the 4th, 6th, and 9th grades. It also urged that African-American male teachers in the district receive special training to lead the classes and that mentoring programs be established for black youths.

Superintendent Patrick Russo said officials will proceed with developing more detailed plans for the pilot classrooms.

Detroit Plan Struck Down

Similar programs in the form of special classrooms or separate academies for African-American male youths have been proposed or implemented in Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis.

However, Detroit's plan for separate academies for African-American boys was challenged in court by groups contending that the plan illegally discriminated against girls.

A federal judge ruled in 1991 that the district could not discriminate on the basis of sex in accepting students to the academies. District officials opened slots for girls, but kept the focus of the schools on the needs of African-American male students.

While Baltimore has experimented with separate classrooms for African-American boys, both Milwaukee and Minneapolis opted for Afrocentric-immersion schools open to both boys and girls.

Mr. Russo said that the task force's recommendation that a separate academy for black males be established by 1996 will be studied carefully before any decision is made. The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has objected to the proposal.

Curtis V. Cooper, the chairman of the Savannah chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., said the group would sue the school district if it established a separate academy because the idea amounts to "a return to segregation.''

"We are opposed to any kind of black academy,'' Mr. Cooper added. "But we agree to let them do some preliminary testing of the theory that they can get black males to do better in school by bringing them in contact with black male teachers.''

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