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Federal authorities have decided to investigate an allegation that the Buffalo Public Schools discriminate against nonwhite students, resulting in fewer of them attending schools like City Honors, which require students to meet certain admissions criteria.

The U.S. Department of Education’s New York Office for Civil Rights informed Patricia Elliott-Patton in a letter recently that it plans to investigate. In December, she filed a complaint alleging that the district disproportionately excludes nonwhite students, including her daughter, from criteria-based schools.

In the district as a whole, 22 percent of students are white; at City Honors, 66 percent are white, according to the most recent information available through the state Education Department. Black students account for 53 percent of students throughout the district; at City Honors, they account for 21 percent. Hispanic students constitute 16 percent of the enrollment across the district, but 6 percent of students at City Honors.

Timothy C.J. Blanchard, director of the New York Office for Civil Rights, noted in his letter to Elliott-Patton that “opening the allegation for investigation in no way implies that (the Office for Civil Rights) has made a determination with regard to its merit.”

Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, hailed the decision by the federal office to investigate.

“We understand the gravity of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights establishing jurisdiction and agreeing to investigate,” he said.

Radford said he thinks Superintendent Pamela C. Brown has been retaliating against the parent group since Elliott-Patton, an active member of the group, filed the complaint.

At the last School Board meeting, he said, Brown presented information to the board about the parent group that was inaccurate and misrepresented the group.

“At the last board meeting, the superintendent launched this attack on the DPCC,” he said. “We feel the superintendent is targeting the DPCC and the parent leadership and trying to undermine us.”

The parent group plans to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, alleging that Brown is retaliating against it.

In a brief statement released Thursday, Brown noted the district’s long history of criteria-based schools.

“Criteria-based schools have been a part of the Buffalo Public Schools since the early 1970s in direct response to the needs of our community,” she said in the statement. “These schools have long served us well.

“We take this matter very seriously, and we will cooperate with the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to resolve this matter in the best interest of our students and our community.”

email: mpasciak@buffnews.com