Minority Groups Decry Ouster of School Advocate

By Kameel Stanley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Loudoun County's minority community is criticizing school officials for failing to renew the contract of the district's first supervisor for outreach.

Despite months of lobbying from teachers, parents and organizations representing minorities, the school system ended its contract last month with Beverly Bennett-Roberts, who was hired nearly three years ago to lead the district's diversity efforts.

Supporters of Bennett-Roberts blame discrimination and the school system's desire to maintain the status quo for her firing. Bennett-Roberts and her attorney, Michael Miller, said the termination, which occurred several months after her only evaluation, was flawed and failed to follow the school district's written administrative policies.

"We were appalled," said Reginald A. Early, president of the Loudoun County NAACP. "There is no credible reason for her contract not to be renewed, given that she was doing exactly what she was hired to do. It just doesn't make sense. There's a disconnect somewhere."

Privacy rules prevent the district from commenting on personnel issues, schools spokesman Wayde B. Byard said, adding that the district maintains its commitment to diversity.

An advertisement for the job has been posted on the school system's Web site.

Early and others in the community are worried that the district's decision will impede progress made during Bennett-Roberts's tenure and could have a negative effect on its relationship with minorities.

In her evaluation in February, a copy of which she provided to The Washington Post, school officials said Bennett-Roberts had an "unwillingness or inability" to stay within her job description, failed to alert her supervisor of negative perceptions of the school district, failed to follow directions from her supervisor, provided internal e-mails to people outside the school system without permission of the originator and communicated with outsiders to undermine or cast doubt on equity efforts.

"You have failed to develop the trust necessary to build a cooperative relationship between outside sources and the school system," the evaluation said. "You have demonstrated unethical behavior by providing information to outside sources for the purpose of discrediting Loudoun County Public Schools."

Edward Bourne, a member of the school system's minority-student achievement advisory committee, said that from the community's perspective, Bennett-Roberts's performance was "phenomenal." Many people don't think the school system is being transparent about the issue, he said. "I think there's a lack of trust there that really needs to be addressed," he said.

When Bennett-Roberts came to Loudoun in November 2005, there was no road map. Her job was a newly created position designed to focus on outreach to various parent advisory groups, coordinating parent volunteers and working with principals and schools to develop equity teams.

More than 30 percent of the school system's 54,047 students are minorities, 2007-08 figures showed.

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