Manatee County District moves forward with plan for black males

BRADENTON -- The Manatee County School District has unveiled an action plan to support black male students after an audit found the district was disproportionately identifying them as having emotional behavioral disabilities.

Students classified as having EBD have persistent, consistent emotional or behavioral responses that hurt performance in the classroom. The responses cannot be attributed to age, culture, gender or ethnicity.

Black students make up 14 percent of the district population, but account for 45 percent of students diagnosed with EBD, according to information presented by the district in June. The county ranks No. 2 in the state for disproportionately identifying black students with EBD.

"This is not the way that we would like to lead," said board member Barbara Harvey, who requested an action plan after the June presentation.

Wylene Herring-Cayasso, director of exceptional student education, and her team offered a plan Tuesday designed to increase the graduation rate for black males while decreasing suspension and dropout rates.

Some plan components will be implemented for the 2014-15 school year, while

others will be included in the 2015-16 school year. The plan will be monitored over a three-year period to consistently collect data, Cayasso said.

The plan includes an "early warning system" to monitor academics, discipline, attendance, socioeconomic status and retention. If students appear in three of five categories, it will flag them as needing intervention.

Officials are still working out how many students the system will initially flag with three indicators, said Joseph Roberts, an exceptional student education coordinator with the district. As of Sept. 25, there were 4,576 black male students in the Manatee County school system, according to the presentation.

"We're still juggling the numbers, but we're moving forward," Roberts said.

The district is recruiting mentors to pair with students who fit three of five categories. The mentors will meet weekly with their assigned student. The district wants to pull mentors from the district, churches, local law enforcement and the community.

"This will be the backbone of this program," Roberts said.

The district will also establish parent-training academies. Roberts noted many students come from single-parent homes.

All school staff will be trained. Training will start with administrators and dean but the goal is to have staff trained in all areas, too.

Staff will encourage and recruit more black students into gifted programs and help increase parental awareness of those programs. The district will also recruit more black teachers and support staff.

The district will organize a summit to include guest speakers and question-and-answer sessions with experts. The summit will be open to students, parents, school staff and the community. The district presentation says the action plan is the first step in achieving the goal.

Board members praised the staff for their work, specifically citing the mentor program and the intervention plan.

"I really like the early warning system for intervention. I think that's great," said board member Bob Gause.

Board members also encouraged Cayasso and her team to look into other community partnerships to find mentors and ideas.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.