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Schools conducting federal ethnicity surveys

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public School officials are asking parents to help the district determine how many black, white, Hispanic and Asian students attend public schools in the county.

In Oct. 2007, the U.S. Department of Education released new guidelines for reporting student and staff ethnicity data to the federal government. That mandate is to be done by the 2010-2011 school year, using a two-question survey.

Clayton officials plan to conduct the surveys now, so they will have data for the 2009-10 school year.

The school system is sending home ethnicity surveys with student progress reports this week. They are expected to be returned to teachers by Feb. 20.

"All school systems are required to provide this information to the federal government," said Ken Sanders, the school system's guidance and counseling coordinator. "Revised guidelines mandate that the data be collected in a two-part format, for race and ethnicity."

The survey asks parents if their child is of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. In the child is not, or if a Hispanic child has a multi-racial background, then the second question asks about the child's race. The options for the second question include American Indian, or Alaskan Native, Asian, native Hawaiian, or other Pacific Islander, black, and white.

According to School District Spokesperson Jacqueline Evans, the system's current data show the ethnic breakdown of the student population to be 72.54 percent black; 14.74 percent Hispanic; 4.46 percent Asian or Pacific Islander; 4.39 percent white; 3.75 percent multi-racial, and 0.09 percent American Indian or Alaska Native.

In case a parent has questions about which race to use to identify his or her children, there are ethnicity definitions included with the surveys.

White people are defined as individuals whose ethnic origins are based in Europe, the Middle East or North Africa. Black people are defined as people who are descended from "the black racial groups" of Africa. Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are described as people whose origins can be traced to the "original peoples" of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa and other islands in the Pacific Ocean.

People who are descended from people who lived in Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent should identify themselves as Asians, according to the survey. A person who wants to identify as an American Indian or Alaska Native, must be descended from the native people of North and South America, and maintain ties to the tribes or communities of their ancestors.

The school system is also asking for up-to-date contact information from parents. The surveys already have been posted on the school system's web site in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Sanders said there will be no penalty for parents who have not filled out and returned their survey by Feb. 20. He said the school system will continue to collect them after that date, but added "[t]he district is making every effort to collect the data in a timely fashion.

"We hope parents will comply, so that we will have as accurate an account as possible."

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On the net:

Clayton County Public Schools: http://www.clayton.k12.ga.us/

U.S. Department of Education: http://www.ed.gov/