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School choice group threatens lawsuit over new A-F school grading system

OKLAHOMA CITY - There are renewed claims that our state’s new A through F grading system for schools is racist.

Critics have claimed since it was approved by the state Department of Education in December that the new plan has lower expectations for minority and poor students.

And just one day after Governor Mary Fallin signed a House Joint Resolution approving the report behind that system, a parent choice group is threatening a lawsuit.

“I really think we’re going to be the laughingstock of the country. You know people are going to look at Oklahoma and say 'Oklahoma passed another racist bill,'” said Robert Ruiz with Choice Matters, a parent organization advocating educational choices.

Ruiz says he believes the new system creates a civil rights violation and he says several attorneys their group has consulted with agree.

“It reinforces those false ideas that children cannot succeed based off of socioeconomics and race,” said Ruiz.

“Not only is it not racist, this is insuring that racism is no longer hopefully going to be a factor in public education,” said Phil Bacharach with the State Department of Education.

Bacharach says it is a federal mandate that they track certain historically underserved student groups.

“Whether it be African American or Hispanic or economically disadvantaged, that is outlined in ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) and we are simply doing something to really reduce the achievement gap,” said Bacharach.

“I don’t believe the report card to be racist,” said Cecilia Robinson-Woods, superintendent of Millwood Public Schools.

Robinson-Woods’ district is 97% African American and 94% poverty.

She likes the new system.

“I’m looking at a report card that’s actually going to level the playing field. It’s going to say that if your kids come prepared, we expect them to grow and if your kids don’t come prepared, we expect them to grow,” said Robinson-Woods.

But some leaders in the legislature still aren’t convinced.

“It reminds me of days of old where we were separating folks based on color and what we are saying is our children should be held to the same standard,” said State Representative, Regina Goodwin.

HB 1693 still has to make its way through the legislature.

That bill formally repeals the old A-F school report card system and sets up the framework for the new one.