Davis school board settles GATE admission policy lawsuit

By From page A1 | February 15, 2013

The Davis school district has settled a lawsuit, filed last August by attorney David Meyers, concerning the district’s policy for admitting students to its Gifted and Talented Education program.

Meyers brought the suit on behalf of a “John Doe” client, asserting that the district followed “discriminatory GATE admission practices when it comes to evaluating students with risk factors” such as English as a second language.

Meyers argued that “in every such case, the native English speaker will be placed into GATE before a non-native speaker, the student with a disability that inhibits his or her performance on the OLSAT” — one of the tests used to identify GATE-eligible students — “will be placed behind a student with no such disability, etc.”

The settlement — which includes a $10,000 payment to the parents of a South Davis elementary school student, to cover legal fees — allows the family and Meyers to “state they are pleased with the recent efforts … to review, monitor and seek appropriate changes to the GATE placement process.”

Contacted by The Enterprise, Meyers expressed appreciation “to the superintendent and his team for their willingness to take on the issues we presented to them, and to work earnestly and in good faith on behalf of all of their students and families.”

Added Davis Board of Education president Sheila Allen, “We’re very interested in making sure that students identified as GATE-eligible all have fair and equal access to the program.”

At last Thursday’s school board meeting, the board voted unanimously to adopt an administrative recommendation to place new GATE-identified students in GATE classes by drawing names from a pool of all eligible students. Previously, GATE placement had been based on a rank-ordered system, with students scoring in the 99th percentile on one of the tests used for GATE identification being admitted first, followed by students in the 98th percentile, etc.

Students with risk factors scoring in the 96th or 95th percentile, while qualifying for GATE admission, tended to end up on the lower part of the list — hence the lawsuit brought by Meyers.

Eve Fichtner, the school district’s general counsel, told the school board that the “current rank-order placement process has the potential of discriminating against students in a protected category. … The lottery system is a way to eliminate the potential for discrimination.”

However, numerous parents of students in the GATE program who spoke last week defended the rank-ordered system, with various speakers arguing that students with the highest scores on the GATE-identification tests should be admitted first.

School board trustee Gina Daleiden told the parents, as she prepared to vote for the lottery system, “we don’t seem to have any other options that pass legal muster.” And trustee Susan Lovenburg observed, “If we have an existing discriminatory program, we continue to be at risk.”

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.

Jeff Hudson

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