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Home » Federal civil complaint targets admissions system used by local vocational schools
LOWELL – Two professional technical high schools in Massachusetts are the target of a civil rights lawsuit over their admissions policies, which are practiced at almost every other professional school in the Commonwealth.
The Vocational Education Justice Coalition – a coalition of 20 civil rights groups, unions and community groups – filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office against the Department of Primary and Secondary Education, which sets admissions policies for these schools.
The promotion is for Montachusett Regional Vocational High School in Fitchburg and Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School in Wakefield because they use a ranking system based on grades, attendance, recommendations and discipline.
All but two of the state’s 28 VOC tech schools use a similar ranking system. Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School in Marlboro uses a lottery-based system, and Worcester Technical High School relies on a modified lottery where applicants with 10 or fewer unexcused absences have an equal chance of being accepted.
At Greater Lowell Technical High School, 811 black students applied for the 2022-2023 school year, compared to 383 white students, according to admissions data. However, 64% of white students were accepted, while only 56% of black students were offered admission.
This discrepancy is larger between low-income and non-income students. A total of 753 financially disadvantaged students applied, 48% of whom were accepted. But 75% of their 479 wealthier peers who applied received an offer letter, according to this data.
By contrast, Shawsheen Valley Technical High School in Billerica admitted 100% of the students who applied, even though only 308 black students were even eligible to apply, compared to 1,073 white students.
The data at Westford’s Nashoba Valley Technical High School is similar — while white students, colored students, financially disadvantaged students, and non-disadvantaged students were admitted about 80% of the time, 398 colored students were eligible to apply, while 1,036 were white Students were students were.
In the case of financially disadvantaged students, 255 were able to apply, and in the case of students who are not classified as low-income, a total of 1,179 were eligible to apply. According to the data, this proportion roughly corresponds to students with special education compared to students without special education.
According to this data, Shawsheen Tech received 59 applications from black students and 343 from white students for the current school year and about 80% of both groups as well as 84% financially disadvantaged and 79% non-disadvantaged students accepted the offer.
The complaint said DESE allows VOC tech schools to “use admissions criteria that disproportionately and unfairly exclude students from protected classes.” This includes students of color, people with disabilities, and English learners. The complaint names four students, two from Chelsea and two from Gardner.
Low-income students are also considered a protection class.
Josue Castellon, a 16-year-old junior at Chelsea High School, said Thursday morning at a State House press briefing that he applied to Northeast Metro Tech but was turned down. Castellon called the admissions process “completely biased” and one that “does not reflect your worth as a student.”
“Why is our future being decided by middle school grades, discipline records, presence and recommendations from people who may not even know us, rather than just judging us on our potential, hard work and determination?” Kastellon said. “That needs to change.”
Officials recommend using a lottery system they believe is fairer and are urging the Massachusetts Board of Education to change the admissions policy.
Steve Sharek, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators, wrote in a statement that vocational schools cannot accommodate all students who wish to attend — there are currently 6,000 students on waiting lists for such programs, which enroll about 55,000 students.
The organization supports bills that would invest $3 billion to expand MAVA schools and build new ones, he wrote, and they hope to make those schools more accessible to “a more diverse student body.”
“Nearly 97% of Massachusetts regional vocational-technical and agricultural high schools have changed their admissions policies, practices, or staffing,” Sharek wrote. “We are seeing an improvement.”
To continue to make this improvement, Sharek says, MAVA needs time to analyze the impact of the admissions changes and a greater presence in middle schools to educate students about their educational offerings. The investment bills submitted by Senator Paul Feeney, D-Foxborough, and MPs Frank Moran, D-Lawrence, and Adam Scanlon, D-North Attleborough, would give them “access to all students” in middle schools.