Pennsylvania’s Upper Darby Center of Redistricting Controversy

(Photo: Michael S. Wirtz, Philly.com)

(Photo: Michael S. Wirtz, Philly.com)

Schools will open and function for students in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, but the district continues to be entangled in drama that started during summer break and included the assumed firing of its superintendent. It then grew into a dispute over alleged racial inequalities, and now the NAACP has stepped into the fracas.

The fighting began during the last school year and involves Superintendent Richard F. Dunlap, Jr. The 2015-2016 school year was Dunlap’s third year of leading one of the most diverse districts in the region, and it was also his last, according to Kathy Boccella of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

To minimize class overcrowding at specific elementary schools, Dunlap suggested that some children be assigned to schools outside their zones. But after a school board meeting July 20 which was closed to the public, Dunlap left his position and his $194,866 per year salary.

Though community members did not know why this occurred, some said that his proposal and its possibility of changing the demographic makeup of some schools that were predominantly white in the township was the reason for his downfall.

The Delaware County NAACP chapter is preparing to investigate whether the Upper Darby School District (UDSD) had discriminated by putting lower-income minority pupils in crowded schools, along with busing almost 300 students from the Millborne zone to a rented physical plant six miles from Glenolden, which is outside the district. The NAACP noted it was:

“… concerned about anyone who opposes the best education for all kids, who supports segregating children, so . . . we are doing some investigating,” said Joan Duvall-Flynn, president of the media branch and a member of the group’s state conference.

Duvall-Flynn added that her chapter is asking the US Department of Education to look for violations of students’ civil rights and requesting an interview with district employees and board members. She continues by stating that public hearings may be held so residents can be a part of the discussion.

“The district has not heard from the NAACP or the Department of Justice,” wrote district spokeswoman Dana Spino Monday afternoon. “The district believes the allegations are not credible.”

State Rep. Margo Davidson (D-164) pointed out that the Senkow student makeup is 78% low-income, 96% persons of color and is the highest performing school in the district, writes Kevin Tustin, reporting for The Delaware County Daily Times. But they have been bussed across three school districts to Glenolden when there is a school within walking distance from their home in Garrettford.

Dunlap’s proposal was criticized by some elected officials of the Delaware County District, such as Mayor Thomas N. Micozzie, but there were those who agreed with Dunlap’s plan, which was developed by an educational management company named DMC.

Not all the opponents based their disagreement with the proposal on racial diversity. There were those who questioned the undesirable scheduling requirements for teachers and the loss of 14 faculty jobs based on attrition.

Miccozzie was troubled by the plan’s effect on real estate values when parents find that their children will not be attending the school nearest their homes, adds Kathy Boccella, reporting for the Philadelphia Media Network.