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Group says 1.5 million Florida kids are unfairly targeted

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Photo: Video by fox4now.com

Group says 1.5 million Florida kids are unfairly targeted

By Kelli Stegeman. CREATED Aug 2, 2013

ORLANDO, Fla. - More than 1 million Florida school kids being discriminated against. That's according to a new federal civil rights complaint filed Friday. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center say's Florida's education system is failing minorites and perpetuating stereotypes. 

They're making a plea to the federal government to intervene. 

"What you're saying is black students can't achieve at the same level as other students," said former Lee County School Board member and current educator Bob Chilmonik. 

He's agreeing with a new civil rights complaint against the Florida Department of Education. 

"When you set a lower expectation for students that's what you're going to get," he said.

The Strategic Plan adopted last October by the board sets goals for 2018. 

When it comes to reading, the goal is to have 90% of Asian students, 88% white students.. 81% of Hispanic students and 74% of African American students reading at or above grade level.

"What message is that sending to students in Florida?" reporter Kelli Stegeman asked Chilmonik. 

"Well, the message is that some students achieve better than others," Chilmonik replied. "How would you feel if you're sitting in a classroom knowing that you're not going to be challenged the same way as another student sitting right next to you? Again it's ludicrous."

"It's discriminatory," said Jerri Katzerman. She is the Deputy Law Director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

The Center filed the civil rights complaint with the Department of Justice. 

"It creates different standards based on race and national origin," she said. 'For youngsters of color, those achievement standards are lower than their Asian American and white peers."

The Florida Department of Education is responding with this statement: "We have not had the opportunity to review this litigation. However, it would be terribly misleading to ignore Florida's incredible gains in closing the "achievement gap." For two consecutive years, Florida has ranked first in the country on the graduation index for Hispanic students according to the 2013 Diplomas Count study. Similarly, gains for black and Hispanic students have increased at higher rates in FCAT and EOC scores. We will not allow any politically-motivated litigation to slow or stop the progress made by teachers and schools around the state."

Chilmonik believes more needs to be done. 

"All students should be set at the same standards and I'm hopeful that the local school board here will disregard that and set higher objectives for all minority students so they all achieve at the same level," he said. 

FOX 4 did reach out to some current Lee County School Board members and did not hear back. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center says the hope is for the Florida Department of Education to reevaluate the standards. If not, a lawsuit could be on the horizon.  

Kelli Stegeman

Kelli Stegeman

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Kelli anchors the 10 p.m. weekend news.