March 15, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Administrators at a Hartford magnet
school, facing state guidelines requiring more white students, changed
the designations of at least six biracial students from African
American or Hispanic to white in school documents, in some cases
without parents' permission.
Eduardo V. Genao, principal of the
Sport & Medical Sciences Academy, said officials made the changes
only after calling each student's parents to determine whether school
records were correct, and only in cases where mistakes had been
But the parents of two students who
said their classifications were altered told The Courant they were
never called and would not have approved the change.
"I do not like what I'm hearing.
I do not like it at all," parent Rufus Gartrell said. "At
least the gentleman should have come to me."
And an angry anonymous letter, purportedly
sent by aggrieved parents to city and state officials, complained
that Genao and his former assistant principal called students to
the office and pressured them to change their designation to white
without parental approval.
"Mr. Genao called our children
into his office one at a time and spoke to each of them of how the
school will get `millions of dollars' if the child would just let
him change their ethnic background in the computer from minority
to white," said the letter, which was sent to Mayor Eddie A.
Perez, the city school board and state Attorney General Richard
Blumenthal. "He did not call the parents to get permission.
He thought he could just change these facts with the permission
of 14 and 15 year old children."
Genao conceded that he asked teachers
to help him identify biracial students and that he called the students
to his office. In the course of discussing their racial classifications,
he acknowledged, he spoke with them about the school's funding.
"I did indicate to the students and the parents how the formula
works," he said.
In fact, state guidelines tie the funding
of magnet schools that opened before this year to residency, not
race. Bill Magnotta, the state Department of Education's magnet
school manager, said that to qualify for magnet school funding,
schools must draw at least 30 percent of their students from the
suburbs - a standard Sport & Medical Sciences Academy meets.
Race becomes a factor, for schools
established before this year, in regard to compliance with the Sheff
vs. O'Neill school desegregation settlement. It says 28 percent
of a magnet school's students must be white in order to count toward
reducing racial isolation. With just 89 white students in a population
of 400, or 22 percent, Sport & Medical Sciences falls far short.
Genao, who is in his first year at
the magnet school and is new to Hartford, said he did not realize
the state law linking funding to racial quotas applies only to new
schools and not to established schools such as his. He denied, though,
that the change in the students' racial classifications was linked
But two students whose racial classifications
were changed, as well as the anonymous letter, said Genao and his
now-retired assistant, Norma Lavoie, mingled race and funding in
"He said, `Is it OK if I change
your ethnic background to white to get some funding?'" recalled
freshman Brandon Gartrell, 15, who is biracial. "It was like
$2 million or something like that."
Fifteen-year-old sophomore Dylan Doughty
remembered a similar conversation with Lavoie, who has moved out
of state since retiring and could not be reached for comment. "She
said they need some-odd kids to be white so the school can still
operate. So I was thinking my skin color is white so I may as well
be white. This is how I recall it."
The parents of both students say they
were not consulted - although Brandon said Genao assured him otherwise.
"I said, `Did you call my father?' He said, `Yes.' Then he
started typing something in the computer," Brandon said. "I
didn't really want it to be changed. I would like to be African
Brandon's father, Rufus Gartrell, said
that he wasn't aware of the change until this week and that no one
from the school called him to ask permission. Had anyone called,
he said, he never would have agreed to the change.
"I think I would remember something
like that," Rufus Gartrell said. "I never talked to Brandon
about it. My son, he could pass for white, but I've taught my son
he's also black. I've taught him to be proud of what he is."
Dylan's mother, Jerilyn Fabiani, also
objected to the change. "He's not of legal age and they shouldn't
have been asking him," she said. "It's not his decision
to make at this point in his life."
She said she registered her son as
black "because we thought for him to be accepted in Hartford
it would be better for him and for us for him to be perceived as
The school provided the name of one
parent whom Genao called to ask for permission to change a child's
designation to white. The parent, who asked not to be named, said
she did not feel pressured by Genao and was comfortable with the
change because her child is biracial and if one designation helps
the school more than another, she doesn't care how the school counts
The school would not release a list
of names of children whose racial classifications were changed.
Genao said Brandon was not among them. But a teacher in the school,
who would not let her name be used, said she saw documentation that
Brandon's race had been changed.
Genao said that the staff gave him
the idea to change the codes for biracial children and that former
principals had done the same thing.
But teachers' union President Cathy
Carpino said that teachers are outraged and that she asked Superintendent
of Schools Robert Henry to investigate.
Henry said he ordered an investigation.
He said Genao told him he had contacted the district's magnet office
and was told that as long as parents agreed to the change, it was
OK. Then, Genao told Henry, he met with the children and called
Henry said he took Genao at his word
that all the parents were contacted and he took no further action.
Carpino said when Henry gave her the
explanation, she asked for evidence that parents gave permission,
but Henry didn't give her any. "If a child has filled out an
application and put down their ethnicity, that is who the child
believes he is," Carpino said. "It doesn't seem right
to ask the child to change that."
Andrea Comer, a school board member,
expressed dismay upon hearing that changes were made to students'
"We shouldn't be trying to tinker
with the numbers for any reason," she said. "It's sinister.
It smells like ethnic cleansing and I don't like that."
Perez, who is chairman of the school
board, said he would defer comment until he sees Henry's explanation
Blumenthal was less reticent, saying
he was appalled by the prospect of changing student identification
"I am very troubled by the possibility
that such highly significant and sensitive data could have been
altered as claimed in the letter," Blumenthal said. "We
are by no means near a conclusion, but there is reason for an immediate
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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