The Prince George’s County branch of the NAACP is opposed to the county school system’s plan to open two high schools designed specifically for recent immigrants and second-generation students, arguing that the concept might be unconstitutional.
Bob Ross, president of the county NAACP, told schools chief Kevin M. Maxwell and the Board of Education at a meeting Tuesday night that he thinks the plan to open schools for English-language learners next year is not in line with the 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The landmark Brown ruling declared that separate public schools for black and white students violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“You risk having [Prince George’s] having a segregated school system,” Ross said. “I’m afraid we’re turning the bus around.”
Maxwell and representatives of two groups that advocate for immigrants — the International Network for Public Schools and CASA of Maryland — announced in July that the Carnegie Corporation of New York had provided a $3 million grant to open two schools for English-language learners who are struggling academically.
CASA and school system officials said after the meeting Tuesday that the schools will provide an opportunity to serve a population that faces significant academic challenges.
“We certainly do not see the schools in violation of Brown v. Board of Education,” said Tehani Collazo, senior director for schools and community engagement at CASA. “These are two school options for families. . . . I don’t see it as segregation because it’s an option. If we were saying all ELL students need to be served in these schools, that would be one thing.”
There are 19 schools across the country that focus on English-language learners, including two programs in the Washington area. T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria opened an academy in 2012; Cardozo High School in the District opened its program last month.
“These are schools of choice,” Maxwell said. “They exist across the country, and there has been no legal issue that I’m aware of.”
The two high schools would be the first of their kind in Prince George’s. One school would be specifically for students from Langley Park, most of whom came from Central America. The other will be for recent immigrants and refugees from around the world.
The school in Langley Park will occupy its own building, but the other will be operated as a school within a school, similar to the programs in Virginia and the District.
Largo High School has been identified as a possible location, Ross and Collazo said.
Ross told the board that the NAACP has been supportive of efforts involving immigrants, including Maryland’s Dream Act, which makes in-state tuition rates available to eligible undocumented immigrants at state colleges and universities. He also said he had expressed concerns about the two schools during private meetings with school system and CASA officials.
Collazo said English-language learners and recent immigrants will also be served by traditional “comprehensive” high schools. But she said: “We see the [planned] schools as an opportunity to develop best practices and share with other schools throughout the county, and increase the academic achievement and overall education experience for [English-language learners] and ultimately for all Prince George’s County students.”
A recent study found that just 45 percent of the Langley Park community’s students graduate from high school in four years. Nearly 85 percent of high school students statewide graduate on time.
Ross said that he understands the need for the programs but that the rest of the county’s student population also has academic needs. “Are we saying their needs are not relevant?” he asked.
Ross raised concerns about the resources that the new schools will receive and contended that any new school should be open to all students. He said he plans to discuss the NAACP branch’s concerns with legal counsel to determine its next steps.
“We can not move back into a segregated school system,” Ross said in an interview. “People are supposed to assimilate into the school system. Instead, the school system is assimilating. They are flipping the script.”