The Miami Herald
Sept. 1, 2009

Broward schools remove 'negro' from racial background form


Faced with complaints from parents and students about racial insensitivity, state and local education officials have dropped the word negro from a racial background formthat went out to every Broward public school student the first day of school.

The form, on page 9 of the code of student conduct booklet and titled "Required Data From Parents,'' asked two questions: the yes-or-no "Is your child Hispanic or Latino?'' and the multiple-choice "What is your child's race?''

The options under race included Black or African American. The description that follows reads: "A person having origins in any black racial groups in Africa. Terms such as 'Haitian' or 'Negro' can be used in addition to 'Black or African American.' ''

Parents had to sign the form and return it to the school so the district could compile federally required data. The information helps track changing demographics and allocate school funding.

The word "Negro'' concerned a few parents, who called the school district and the Florida Department of Education to complain.

It also caught the eye of Jake Edri, a 15-year-old 10th-grader at Deerfield Beach High School, who said he feared seeing "Negro'' in a district-issued booklet could lead students to believe using that word was OK. He started a petition, with his principal's permission, to ask that the wording be changed.

"I figured, if I bring this up to the School Board, I can do something about it,'' Jake said.

He and a friend collected more than 200 signatures between Thursday afternoon and Monday and spoke before the board at a meeting Tuesday.

"I attend an ethnically diverse school,'' said Jake, who is white. "I and other students have found page 9 of the code of conduct offensive.''

Superintendent Jim Notter said he, too, was troubled after hearing about the form's wording last week.

"I got a call from a parent, and I said, 'Huh.' ''

Notter asked his staff to investigate.

Turns out the Broward district had copied the language from a sample form the Florida Department of Education posted online. The state had gotten its language from racial definitions used by the federal government.

Under those definitions, last revised by the federal Office of Management and Budget in 1997, a person who identifies as "Haitian'' or "Negro'' should be counted for race purposes as Black or African American.

The state included those definitions in its sample form, though the Broward district was not required to use the same wording.

Board member Bob Parks said both entities should have taken a closer look at the language in the definitions.

"That was an error on the part of the state Department of Education, but we should have picked it up early as well,'' he said.

The other racial categories listed on the form are: American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and White. A person can identify with more than one race.

People can identify separately as Hispanic or Latino, which is an ethnicity and not a race -- for example, a person can be Hispanic and white.

(Hispanic and Latino mean the same thing, the definition says, but are both included in the same ethnic category because some people -- mostly in the eastern portion of the United States -- call themselves Hispanic, and others -- mostly in the western part of the country -- call themselves Latino.)

By Tuesday, the state had already deleted the sentence that included "Negro'' from its sample form online.

"This shouldn't be an issue next year,'' said Tom Butler, a spokesman for the education department. "We want to adhere to the federal guidelines as closely as possible, but at the same time we do want to listen to the concerns of the community.''

Broward issued a memo to principals last week with a similarly revised form to address complaints -- though it was not distributed to every student.

"I couldn't pull 250,000 books back to completely redo one page, but we gave clear direction to the principals,'' Notter said.

Meanwhile, Parks thanked Jake, the Deerfield Beach High student, for bringing his petition forward.

"t's a civics lesson for all students,'' Parks said.

And, he added: "At least we know students are reading the student code of conduct.''