PRLDEF Calls on Osceola School Board to Change Unconstitutional Voting System

July 17, 2007
CONTACT: John Garcia, PRLDEF, (212) 739-7513

PRLDEF is urging the Osceola School Board to change its at-large electoral system, charging that the present system is unconstitutional and in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA).

Last year, in a suit brought the U.S. Justice Department, the court ordered the county to change a similar districting scheme claiming it was in violation of the VRA. The county recently changed the system in accordance with the ruling.

For many of the same reasons cited in the decision against the County, PRLDEF believes that the at-large system of the Osceola School District can be subject to similar liability.

“QUOTE FROM CESAR”

Osceola School District has a diverse student population. For a number of years, it has been clear that the demographic plurality of its pupil population in the school district has been identified as Hispanics. Your own data shows that 49.9 percent of all the district’s pupils are Hispanic.

Not surprisingly, many of these Latino pupils and their families have language barriers and present special educational needs and concerns. During the past year, PRLDEF staff members have been in contact with local Osceola parents and residents to discuss the School Board’s need for increased inclusion.

Hispanic parents and advocates feel that educational priorities, sensitive administration and equitable allocation of resources are best attained through accountability and fair representation on the School Board and in the district office. Inclusive advocacy and representation on the School Board is essential to bridging any of these gaps.

The concerns of Latino parents and students are underscored further by the troubling news in the Orlando Sentinel (June 30, 2007) article “Grades Take a Nose Dive” which cites the precipitous drop in Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) academic achievement levels at Poinciana High School, where over 58% of students are Hispanic; this was the only traditional high school in the county to have done so poorly.

As the VRA supports the call for greater inclusion of minority voters in the governance of the school district, the point of representational fairness starts with a fair system of access to the School Board’s election system.

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