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Rolly: Latino group plans lawsuit over Utah educational practices
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

ALatino advocacy group has notified the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings that it is filing a civil rights lawsuit against Utah's education system.

Also, says Robert Gallegos, president of the Raza Political Action Coalition (Raz-Pac), the group will ask for a congressional investigation into alleged discriminatory practices in Utah schools.

Gallegos says the state office of education, the state school board, local school district boards and the Board of Regents will be defendants in the suit. He alleges school officials have deliberately kept inadequate data on dropout and low achievement rates of minority students protected under federal civil rights laws.

Independent studies he has conducted, he says, show a 45-to-65 percent dropout rate among Latinos, Asians, African Americans and American Indians in Utah over the last 15 to 20 years.

If they don't have the data, they have nothing to fix, he says.

And while Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. announced he will form a new task force to examine the low achievement rates of minority students, Raz-Pac members fear that it may be a repeat of past commissions that were little more than putting lipstick on a pig.

Raz-Pac noted that during the 2000 Utah Legislative session, $150,000 was allocated for a study that concluded dropout rates were higher for students from diverse populations, the state and school districts did a poor job of collecting data on dropout rates and dropout prevention programs were inadequate.

Since then, says Gallegos, the Utah Legislature has neglected to review and implement recommendations from that task force to close the achievement gap. He also notes the Legislature just this year buried a proposal by Rep. David Litvak, D-Salt Lake City, to form a task force similar to what Huntsman has proposed.

What's that smell? Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, through recent media interviews, continues to push for curbing smoking in public in Salt Lake City, like a smoking ban in bars, for example.

He might want to check out the third-floor balcony of the City-County Building, not far from his own office.

City employees can be seen enjoying the balcony for a smoke break nearly all hours of the day.

They are accommodated with chairs, tables and an ash tray.

State Administrative Rule R392-510-9, by the way, states: "[A building owner, agent or operator] may not designate an outdoor smoking permitted area within 25 feet of any entrance-way, exit, open window, or air intake of a building where smoking is prohibited."

Here's an idea: Mayor Anderson and the Utah Legislature could take a page from the cannot-do list of some German lawmakers.

A story out of Berlin by the Reuters news agency notes some members of parliament want to prohibit drivers from smoking in their cars.

The German Parliament already has outlawed the use of cell phones while driving, but that kind of ban might be hitting a little too close to home for Utah legislators.

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Paul Rolly welcomes e-mail at prolly@sltrib.com.

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