Monday, July 20, 2015

Court Holds Arizona's Ban on Ethnic Studies Violates First Amendment and Remands for Further Findings on Discrimination

The Ninth Circuit has issued its decision in Arce v. Huppenthal.  The case arises out of the 2010 ban on Mexican American Studies programs in Arizona.  The legislature passed A.R.S. § 15-112(A), which prohibits school districts and charter schools from having educational programs that: (1) “Promote the overthrow of the United States government,” (2) “Promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” (3) “Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” or (4) “Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” 

The Ninth Circuit held that § 15-112(A)(3) violates the First Amendment due to overbreadth, but held that §§ 15-112(A)(2) and (A)(4) were constitutional.  The trickier analysis in regard to plaintiffs' motivations.  Plaintiffs' alleged that the legislation was racially or ethinically motivated and motivated by viewpoint discrimination.  The former would violate the Fourteenth Amendment and the latter the First Amendment.  The district court had granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the the equal protection and view point discrimination claims.  The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded, finding there were "genuine issues of fact regarding whether the enactment and/or enforcement of § 15-112 was motivated at least in part by a discriminatory intent." The court noted it is undisputed that “the statute was enacted almost entirely” to shut down the Mexican American Studies program in Tuscon.

July 20, 2015 in Discrimination, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

OCR's Dismissal of Asian Americans' Claim of Discrimination Against Harvard Is Much Ado About Nothing

Yesterday, a number of major new outlets, from the Wall Street Journal and the AP to the Bloomberg and US News & World Report, published stories on the fact that the Office for Civil Rights dismissed the complaint that Asian Americans recently filed against Harvard.  The complaint alleged that Harvard systematically discriminates against them in the admissions process.  The substance of the complaint and the prestige of the university against which it was filed are both significant.  See my prior post on the complaint.  That OCR dismissed the complaint, however, is not.  

After filing the complaint, the plaintiffs had also filed a lawsuit in federal court.  The federal court's jurisdiction exceeds and can preempt that of OCR's.  Thus, even if OCR had left the complaint open, the final word would have belonged to the federal court.  That OCR, which has a rapidly growing case load, would choose to avoid devoting resources to this complex case makes perfect sense.  This not a substantive judgement on the merits of the complaint, as some headlines would leave readers to believe, but just good stewardship of federal dollars.  Moreover, if there are issues the federal court does not address, the plaintiffs will be free to revive their complaint with OCR.

July 8, 2015 in Discrimination, Higher education, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Florida School District Agrees to Completely Revamp Discipline to Reduce Racial Disparities

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Flagler County Schools in Florida a reached a settlement to resolve a claim of discriminatory discipline.  The original complaint had alleged that "African-American students accounting for 31 percent of all out-of-school suspensions during the 2010-11 school year even though they were only 16 percent of the student population."  Under the agreement, the School Board adopted a wide-ranging plan to eliminate racial disparities in school discipline .  Rather than permitting unilateral school level decision, the school district itself will have to approve suspensions of five or more days this upcoming school year, and suspensions for three or more days in the next school year. In addition, staff will receive cultural competency and implicit bias training.  A committee will monitor discipline data on a regular basis to monitor progress. The district will consider abolishing suspensions altogether once it develops an alternative school program, peer mediation, and restorative justice practices.  The district also committed to work with law enforcement to reduce in-school arrests.

SPLC is still pursuing federal civil rights complaints in Escambia, Bay, Okaloosa and Suwannee county school districts.  

June 18, 2015 in Discipline, Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

New York Teacher Certification Exam Struck Down As Discriminatory

Last year, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that the claims against the New York Board of Education could move forward.  Plaintiffs had alleged the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test (“LAST”) had a disparate impact on African Americans, was not validated as job related, and, thus, the state's use of it violated Title VII.  The case was remanded back to the trial court.  Earlier this month, the trial court in Gulino v. Bd. of Educ. of City Sch. Dist. of City of New York, 2015 WL 3536694 (S.D.N.Y. June 5, 2015), found:

After reviewing all of the evidence offered by Dr. Outtz and the parties, including expert opinions and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, . . . that the BOE unfairly discriminated against African–American and Latino applicants by requiring them to pass the LAST–2. Like its predecessor, the LAST–2 had a disparate impact on African–American and Latino test takers. And like its predecessor, the LAST–2 was not properly validated as job related, because the exam's designers did not employ procedures to identify the specific areas and depth of knowledge of the liberal arts and sciences that any competent teacher would need to understand. The BOE's use of the LAST–2 was thus unfairly discriminatory under Title VII.

In reaching that conclusion, the Court does not suggest that it would be unhelpful or unwise for the BOE to test applicants' knowledge of the liberal arts and sciences with a properly validated exam. It may be the case that all teachers, whether they instruct kindergarteners or high school seniors, must understand certain areas of the liberal arts and sciences (separate and apart from the particular subject matter they teach) in order to be competent in the classroom. But the Court is not permitted to simply intuit that fact; test designers must establish it through adequate validation procedures. In that regard, both the LAST–1 and the LAST–2 were deficient, which renders them indefensible under Title VII.

June 17, 2015 in Discrimination, Teachers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Flagler County, FL District Settles Discrimination Complaint About Discipline Practices

Flagler County Schools (FL) agreed to change its disciplinary practices after being sued for racial discrimination against African-American students, reports the Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint against Flagler Co. Schools in 2012 for removing and arresting black students more harshly than white students. The complaint alleged in the 2010-11 school year, black students made up 16% of the Flagler Co.'s school population, but were 31% of the in-school and out-of-school suspensions and 69% of expelled students. The complaint also alleged that black students were retained at a disproportionate rate of 22%. Flagler Co. school officials told the media that it will, subject to the school board's approval, reduce out-of-school suspensions and form a citizens’ committee to monitor discipline practices. The district also reportedly agreed to reserve out-of-school suspensions for situations when there’s a safety concern, and require district approval for suspensions lasting five days or more. Starting in August 2016, the district will require approval for any suspension of three days or more and consider eliminating out-of-school suspensions altogether.

June 5, 2015 in Discipline, Discrimination, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Office for Civil Rights Releases Report to Congress: This Time It Is a Must Read

The Office for Civil Rights has released its 2013-2014 report to Congress and the President.  From my perspective, past reports have been dense and un-illuminating.  This current one strikes a very different approach.  First, it is very well written.  Second, it is very well framed and organized. Third, and maybe most important, it is incredibly informative.  Fourth, it is analytical.  Fifth, it is visually appealing.  Sixth, it implicitly suggests courses of action or concern.  Overall, it presents as a study in the state of civil rights and equity in our nation's schools, rather than a bureaucratic account of the beans counted in the past two years.  

Continue reading

May 1, 2015 in Bullying and Harassment, Discipline, Discrimination, English Language Learners, Equity in education, Federal policy, Gender, Racial Integration and Diversity, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Experimental Study Shows Teachers' Interpretation of Student Misbehavior Depends on Race

Jason A. Okonofua and Jennifer L. Eberhardt of Stanford University have published Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students, confirming what statistical analysis has long suggested: that whether and how a student is disciplined is heavily influenced by subconscious racial biases.  Their abstract explains:

There are large racial disparities in school discipline in the United States, which, for Black students, not only contribute to school failure but also can lay a path toward incarceration. Although the disparities have been well documented, the psychological mechanisms underlying them are unclear. In two experiments, we tested the hypothesis that such disparities are, in part, driven by racial stereotypes that can lead teachers to escalate their negative responses to Black students over the course of multiple interpersonal (e.g., teacher-to-student) encounters. More generally, we argue that race not only can influence how perceivers interpret a specific behavior, but also can enhance perceivers’ detection of behavioral patterns across time. Finally, we discuss the theoretical and practical benefits of employing this novel approach to stereotyping across a range of real-world settings.

Read the full study here.

April 23, 2015 in Discipline, Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Civil Rights Complaints Reach All-time High at Department of Education

The Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education is tasked with investigating complaints of race, gender, ethnic, disability, language discrimination, and age, and ensuring that schools are in compliance with the relevant law.  In 2009, OCR received 6,364 complaints.  In 2014, it received 9,989, which was a record high.  The reasons are not altogether clear, but the Washington Post points out two likely causes.  First, OCR's recent guidance on sexual assault on college campuses and increasing student advocacy on this issue may have prompted several complaints in that area, although no single area of discrimination has experienced an unusual increase.  Second, as Catherine Lhamon, the Assistant Secretary at OCR, remarked: “Some of this is about the community believing that we’re here and we’re in business and we’re prepared to do the work.”

The second explanation rings particularly true.  As I have noted several times, OCR has begun enforcing anti-discrimination more aggressively over the past year or two.  Various policy guidance documents have all but invited individuals to bring complaints that they might have foregone in prior years, thinking that such a complaint was a waste of time.  

Not mentioned is the fact that courts have grown so inhospitable to some claims, particularly those requiring evidence of intentional race discrimination. See Alexander v. Sandoval. OCR's continuing authority to enforce its disparate impact regulations leaves it as one of the venues of last resort for communities experiencing educational inequality.  This reality, however, is overtaxing the resources of OCR.  The time it takes to resolve cases has grown considerable.  It is now asking Congress for additional funding to hire 200 additional attorneys and investigators.  Of course, what I might term as OCR's successes are termed as overreaches by some in Congress, who are thus skeptical of the efficacy of funding increases.

March 23, 2015 in Discrimination, Federal policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Accidentally on Purpose: Intent in Disability Discrimination Law

Mark Weber's new article, Accidentally on Purpose: Intent in Disability Discrimination Law, is now available on ssrn here and forthcoming in Boston College Law Review.  For those interested in intentional discrimination standards in general (race, gender, etc.) or disability discrimination in particular, the article is a must read.  It takes very complex and intersecting statutory concepts of intent and brings them together in a coherent way.  Moreover, it points out where some courts have just gotten precedent wrong and should self-correct.  His abstract offers this summary:

American disability discrimination laws contain few intent requirements. Yet courts frequently demand showings of intent before they will remedy disability discrimination. These intent requirements have come into the law almost by accident: through a statutory analogy that appears apt but is in fact false; by continued repetition of language pulled from an obsolete judicial opinion; and by doctrine developed to avoid a conflict with another law when the conflict does not actually exist. Demanding that section 504 and Americans with Disabilities Act claimants show intentional discrimination imposes a burden found nowhere on the face of those statutes or their interpretive regulations.

This Article spells out the reasons not to impose any intent requirement either for liability or for monetary relief in section 504 and ADA cases concerning reasonable accommodations. It makes the uncontroversial point that no intent requirement applies to ADA employment cases, then explains that the same conclusion ought to apply to cases under the ADA’s state and local government provisions and section 504. It rebuts an analogy to caselaw under Title VI and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act that some courts use to support an intent requirement. It then identifies and corrects the reasoning of cases relying on the inappropriate analogy, those that rest on the obsolete precedent, and those that refuse to apply a full range of remedies for fear of conflict with the federal special education law.

This Article breaks new ground in the scholarly discussion of the disability discrimination laws by placing into context and critiquing the infiltration of intent requirements into cases brought under the provisions that bind state and local government and federal grantees. It relies on a contextual reading of the decisions of the Supreme Court, on the history of the ADA, and on policy considerations that ought to determine liability and remedies for unintentional disability discrimination.

March 19, 2015 in Discrimination, Special Education | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Los Angeles Unified School District Makes the Housing-School Connection

With the Fair Housing Act currently before the Supreme Court in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, several education commentators and civil rights advocates have emphasized the connection between housing and schooling.  Of course, the Poverty and Race Research Action Council has long made this connection, in contrast to others that focus on housing and education policy in silos.  

Los Angeles Unified School district has recently been making a connection entirely lost on me until this week. The district brought a claim under the Fair Housing Act against three major banks, alleging racially biased mortgage lending. Why, some might wonder, would a school district bring a housing claim?  Because, according to the district, the banks' lending practices led to foreclosures in the Los Angeles area, which directly lead to lower home values and real estate taxes--the life blood of education.  In other words, biased home lending practices not only lead to racially segregated schools-the point most often made by advocates--but also inadequate financial resources for those segregated schools.

So far, the district is facing an uphill battle.  In February, the district court dismissed the claims, reasoning that school funding levels are not directly tied to local property taxes.  The district is now appealing.  More here.

March 13, 2015 in Discrimination, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Connecting School Politics with Criminal Justice in Ferguson

Since the protests in Ferguson, Missouri first began, I have been burdened by the thought that it warranted discussion here, but never found a way to comment appropriately.  To comment here seemed opportunistic or too tangential to the issues within the normal scope of this blog.  Two weeks ago, the ACLU made a connection or, at least, decided to focus on the education issues in the local school district.

A new ACLU lawsuit challenges the school leadership in the Ferguson-Florissant School District, arguing that the white dominated school board and the electoral process that produces it are in violation of the Voting Rights Act. “African-American students accounted for 77.1% of total enrollment  in the 2011-2012 school year,” but only one of seven school board members are African American.  The press release explains:

"The current [voting] system locks out African-American voters. It dilutes the voting power of the African-American community and severely undermines their voice in the political process," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project.

The Ferguson-Florissant School District has a history fraught with discrimination against African-American citizens. The district, which spans several municipalities, was created by a 1975 desegregation order intended to remedy the effects of discrimination against African-American students. Yet, 40 years later, there is just one African-American member on the seven-member board in a district where African-Americans constitute 77 percent of the student body.

Plaintiffs attribute the District's “significant racial disparities in terms of enrollment in gifted programs, access to advanced classes, assignment to special education programs, and school discipline” to the racially inequitable political process.  

Continue reading

January 7, 2015 in Discrimination, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Intersection of Race and Gender Bias in Discipline

For those who missed it, the New York Times ran a story Wednesday on discipline disparities for African American females, telling the experience of two young African American girls.  The first was described by teachers as very focused, but after she and a white friend scribbled some words on a bathroom stall, things fell apart.  Her part was to write the word  "hi."  The school's response was to suspend her, accuse her of vandalism and demand $100 in restitution.  When her family said it could not pay that amount, she received a visit from a police officer, who served her with papers accusing her of a trespassing misdemeanor and, potentially, a felony.  The final result was a summer on probation, a 7 p.m. curfew, 16 hours of community service, and a letter of apology.  Her friend was able to pay restitution and escaped juvenile justice consequences.  Most poignant, however, was the emotional harm and anxiety that she experienced (as well as the girl in the second story).  One girl's mother called it the equivalent of child abuse.

Continue reading

December 12, 2014 in Discipline, Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Understanding Classroom Segregation and Inequality

R. L'Heureux Lewis McCoy's new book, Inequality in the Promised Land: Race, Resources, and Surburban Schooling, explores the working of segregation and inequality at the classroom level.  The book description states:

Nestled in neighborhoods of varying degrees of affluence, suburban public schools are typically better resourced than their inner-city peers and known for their extracurricular offerings and college preparatory programs. Despite the glowing opportunities that many families associate with suburban schooling, accessing a district's resources is not always straightforward, particularly for black and poorer families. Moving beyond class- and race-based explanations, Inequality in the Promised Land focuses on the everyday interactions between parents, students, teachers, and school administrators in order to understand why resources seldom trickle down to a district's racial and economic minorities.

Continue reading

October 6, 2014 in Discrimination, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Office for Civil Rights Releases New Guidance on Resource Equity, Will It Enforce It?

The Office for Civil Rights released a lengthy Dear Colleague letter today that emphasizes the extent of resource inequalities in schools and its legal framework for evaluating whether those inequalities violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Many States, school districts, and schools across the Nation have faced shrinking budgets that
have made it increasingly difficult to provide the resources necessary to ensure a quality
education for every student. Chronic and widespread racial disparities in access to rigorous
courses, academic programs, and extracurricular activities; stable workforces of effective
teachers, leaders, and support staff; safe and appropriate school buildings and facilities; and
modern technology and high-quality instructional materials further hinder the education of
students of color today.

I would add middle income students to the list of "resources" to which students must have equal access.  Half a century of research confirms that the most important school level determinate of an individual student's academic outcomes is the socio-economic status of the students with whom the student attends school.  Middle income students and families bring social capital and other important resources to schools that heavily affect climate, motivation, and the other tangible resources that the Department references in its letter.  In other words, student assignment policies cause resource inequalities.  Thus, at the local level, student assignment cannot be separated from the conversation of resources, school quality, and academic outcomes.

Continue reading

October 1, 2014 in Discrimination, Federal policy, School Funding | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New Report on Educational Barriers for African American Girls

Tuesday, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Women's Law Center released a critical report on African American Girls and Education.  They offer this summary:

The report, titled Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls: A Call to Action for Educational Equity, is aimed at eliminating barriers that are rooted in racial and gender discrimination so that African American girls and other children of color have meaningful access to equal educational opportunities. The report first provides a historical perspective that captures the critical role that African American women played in desegregating schools and ensuring that all students, irrespective of race, have access to a high quality education. The report then discusses how racial and gender stereotypes permeate classrooms today; other barriers that African American girls face; and academic indicators that show African American girls are being left behind. Finally, the report sets forth a series of recommendations for eradicating the barriers that African American girls and other students of color face.

September 24, 2014 in Discrimination, Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Federal Court Dismisses Challenge to School Closures in D.C.'s Minority Areas

The D.C. federal district court granted summary judgment for the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) in a lawsuit that alleged that DCPS discriminated against minority students by closing schools in minority neighborhoods while allowing predominantly white schools to stay open. The suit's plaintiffs, parents of schoolchildren in the affected districts, also alleged that the school closures funded performance bonuses for teachers in disproportionately white schools and the closures are intended to expland charter schools, which, in turn they allege, are themselves discriminatory institutions. DCPS said that it closed 15 schools and plans to close more because of low enrollment. DCPS said that it would reallocate the savings to put students in more modern facilities and create more programs for the remainining schools. The court rejected the plaintiffs' arguments, stating that both white and minority schools have closed for low enrollment and attributed the pattern of closures in minority areas as "residential segregation, along with changing population patterns, that is largely to blame for the disparities in the closures.” Noting that the school-closure plan was facially race neutral, the court found that the plaintiffs failed to prove that the District’s plan was applied differently because of students’ race or motivated by discriminatory animus. While all of the schools set to be closed are in  majority-minority, lower-income neighborhoods, the court noted that the schools' have been "drained of their students by the increasing popularity of charter schools," with 40%-50% of schoolchildren in those areas now attending charter schools. The federal district court found that DCPS could not be found to be "discriminating by attempting to provide all children with access to higher-achieving schools." Finding that DCPS's stated goals-- to increase efficiency and improve the District's overall school services -- were justifiable, the court dismissed the plaintiffs' Title VI and Equal Protection claims.  Read the opinion in Smith v. Henderson, No. 13-420 (D.D.C. July 18, 2014) here

July 30, 2014 in Cases, Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Office for Civil Rights Goes After Tracking in New Hampshire and Language Access in Pennsylvania

Last month, OCR reached two significant settlement agreements.  The first was with New Hampshire’s Manchester School District, School Administrative Unit #37.  The settlement agreement was in response to tracking and unequal access to college and career preparatory courses for black and Latino students.  The most stark disparities were in the district’s AP courses. "Despite the enrollment of 381 black students and 596 Latino students at the high schools, only 17 seats in AP classes went to black students and only nine seats in AP classes went to Latino students, out of the total of 434 seats in AP courses. At two of the three high schools, there were no Latino students enrolled in the AP courses."  OCR found a number of structural barriers in the district's policies that lead to these disparities.  The district agreed to several steps to address the disparities, the most notable of which were:

  • Identify and implement strategies subject to OCR review and approval to increase student participation in its higher-level learning opportunities, particularly for underrepresented groups such as black, Latino and ELL students.
  • Consider increasing the numbers and types of courses, adding more teachers qualified to teacher higher-level courses and revising selection criteria for enrollment in higher level learning opportunities if these are barriers to increased participation.
  • Specifically assess the impact of assigning students to academic “levels” upon arrival at the high schools on their participation in higher-level learning opportunities, and consider eliminating the system of student assignment to levels or altering the current criteria or method of implementation.
  • Specifically consider eliminating the GPA and class rank penalties associated with withdrawing from higher-level courses.
  • Provide increased support for students enrolled in higher level learning opportunities through counseling, peer support groups and tutoring.

A copy of the resolution letter can be found here. A copy of the agreement can be found here.

The other settlement agreement was with the Hazleton, Pa., Area School District.  OCR found that English Language Learner (ELL) students in the district did not have access to equal educational opportunities and that the district was not adequately notifying their parents of information made available to other parents in English.  More than 10 percent of Hazleton's students are ELLs, which would suggest a scale that should have allowed the district to operate a more robust program, but OCR found that the district was inappropriately excusing students from the English language development program, not providing the required instructional time for over 240 elementary school ELL students, not evaluating the effectiveness of its program, and not using an effective system to identify and communication with limited English proficient parents.  The district agreed to take the following steps:

  • Ensuring that students whose primary home language is not English will be promptly assessed for English language proficiency to determine eligibility for placement in an English language development program and that students will not be improperly exempted from assessment;
  • Assessing students who were improperly exempted from language proficiency assessment to determine whether they may be eligible to receive English language development services;
  • Conducting a comprehensive evaluation of the English language development program at each school level to determine its effectiveness and making modifications to address areas where the program is not meeting the district’s goals;
  • Developing and implementing policies and procedures to ensure that LEP parents are notified, in a language they understand, of school activities that are called to the attention of other parents; and
  • Providing training to appropriate staff on procedures for identifying language-minority parents and on policies and procedures for serving language minority parents.

A copy of the resolution letter can be found here. A copy of the agreement can be found here.

May 27, 2014 in Discrimination, English Language Learners, Federal policy, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 9, 2014

New Federal Guidance on Equal Educational Opportunity, Regardless of Immigration Status

The Departments of Education and Justice have released this new guidance on access to school for immigrant children:

Dear Colleague:

Today, Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder announced updated guidance to assist public elementary and secondary schools to ensure enrollment processes are consistent with the law and fulfill their obligation to provide all children – no matter their background – equal access to an education.

In 2011, the Departments of Justice and Education issued guidance to help schools understand their responsibilities under the Supreme Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe and federal civil rights laws to provide all children with equal access to an education regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status. Today, the departments are issuing important updates to that guidance, including examples of permissible enrollment practices, as well as examples of the types of information that may not be used as a basis for denying a student entrance to school.   

The updated guidance documents— including a guidance letter to states and school districts and a fact sheet and Q and A document—emphasize the need for flexibility in accepting documents from parents to prove a child’s age and to show that a child resides within a school’s attendance area.  They also provide specific examples of the types of documents that many schools have accepted.  And the guidance documents remind schools that they may not require certain documents – such as a parent’s state-issued driver’s license – where such a requirement would prevent a student from enrolling because of his or her parent’s immigration status.

In the three years since the guidance was initially issued in 2011, the departments have worked collaboratively with states and school districts across the country to meet their obligations under Plyler and federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin. 

The important changes announced today will provide districts with the additional tools and practical guidance needed to make sure the schoolhouse door is open to all students and that undocumented children and children from immigrant families no longer face barriers to enrollment in school and starting down the path to a better future.

To view the guidance letter in Spanish, please click here. The fact sheet and Q and A document can be viewed in Spanish here and here, respectively.

Thank you,

The Departments of Education and Justice

May 9, 2014 in Discrimination, English Language Learners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Office for Civil Rights Reaches Voluntary Resolution of Kentucky School District’s Discipline Disparities

The Office for Civil Rights, Department of Education, had been investigating Christian County Public Schools' discipline system.  It found basic due process flaws on the front end and significant racial disparities on the back end.  "[B]lack students were consistently more likely than white students to be assigned in-school suspension and out-of-school suspension when their first disciplinary referral was for violations that were subjective in nature, such as Deliberate Classroom Disruption, Disorderly Conduct, Failure to Follow Directives, and Profanity/Vulgarity. For example, in school year 2010-2011, black students were nearly 3.5 times more likely than white students to receive out-of-school suspension for Profanity/Vulgarity."

Under the final resolution agreement reached last week, the District agreed to: 

  • Ensure to the maximum extent possible that misbehavior is addressed in a manner that does not require removal from school;
  • Collaborate with experts on research-based strategies designed to prevent discrimination in the implementation of school discipline;
  • Provide students who engage in disruptive behaviors with support services designed to decrease behavioral difficulties;
  • Review and revise the disciplinary policies, and implement disciplinary practices that will effectively promote the fair and equitable administration of discipline;
  • Provide training for staff and administrators on the disciplinary policies, and implement programs for students and parents and guardians that will explain the district’s disciplinary policies and behavioral expectations;
  • Effectively address school climate issues;
  • Improve the disciplinary data collection system in order to evaluate discipline policies and practices.

The full press release and resolution agreement is here.  I believe this is the first discipline resolution reached since the Department's new discipline guidelines.  Those guidelines seem to be reflected in this resolution, particularly the agreement to use less harsh and discriminatory alternatives to the current discipline policy.  

March 3, 2014 in Discipline, Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Court Clarifies Post-Parents Involved Framework and Moves Segregation Case Toward Trial

The district court has issued a new opinion in Lewis v. Ascension Parish Sch. Bd., 2014 WL 556677 (M.D. La. 2014), a case involving allegations that the district discriminated in the rezoning of its schools.  Like Spurlock v. Fox, 716 F.3d 383 (6th Cir.2013) and Doe v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 665 F.3d 524 (3d Cir.2011), the court in Lewis had to navigate the complex post-Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle world, in which racial intent, racial classifications, and racial considerations all of different doctrinal relevance and potentially conflicted precedents.  

The district court in Lewis had previously issued a summary decision granting the school district's motion for summary judgement, which was summarily overturned by the Fifth Circuit and remanded.  The Fifth Circuit had intimated that the Third Circuit's holding in Lower Merion--that Justice Kennedy's opinion in Parents Involved was controlling and that assignment plans are subject to rational basis so long as they do not rely on individual racial classifications--was incorrect.  The Fifth Circuit, however, indicated it need not reach those doctrinal question because certain factual issues needed to be addressed first.

In its new decision on remand, the district court offers what may be the most cogent post-Parents Involved analysis to date.  Plaintiff's basic claim is that the district's new assignment plan segregates African Americans and provides them with unequal educational opportunities.  The district court analyzes his claim based on three distinct doctrines.  First, it asks whether a racial classification was employed in the assignment plan.  If so, Parents Involved's strict scrutiny applies.  Here, the court indicates there is no evidence of a racial classification.  Awareness or consideration of race, alone, are insufficient to trigger strict scrutiny.  Thus, the rational basis approach of Lower Merion would apply.  On the one hand, this holding is another validation of districts' ability to voluntarily desegregate.  On the other hand, the plaintiffs in Lewis were alleging segregation and, thus, this court makes clear that those claims still must meet the higher burden of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro.

Second, the court analyzes the disparate impact of the plan and the extent to which it potentially gives rise to a claim of intentional discrimination per Arlington Heights.  It finds that the assignment plan does.

Third, the court analyzes the school district's consideration of racial demographics, etc., in drawing the assignment zones.  The court finds that these considerations, along with the impacts, create a triable issue of fact as to whether intent existed.  The Court elaborated:

Here, the School Board also does not contest that the majority of the non-white students in the District are in the East Ascension High School feeder zone and that the majority of the white students in the District are in the Dutchtown High School and St. Amant High School feeder zones. With regard to the factors considered by the School Board when it adopted Option 2f, the School Board does not contest that its members considered race and socioeconomic status when they developed, evaluated, and adopted Option 2f. Unlike the students in Lower Merion, non-white and white students in the District have each been affected by Option 2f (i.e. assigned to different schools). Indeed, the School Board does not contest this fact. Further, the School Board does not contest that Option 2f assigns all students to schools based on their geographic location.

Unlike the court in Lower Merion, this Court is unable to consider all of the evidence presented until after a full trial on the merits. See Lower Merion, 665 F.3d at 542. However, given the evidence presented here, context of this matter, and factors considered by the School Board when it adopted Option 2f, the Court concludes that Varando and Child B are, in fact, similarly situated to white students in the Dutchtown High School and St. Amant High School feeder zones. Accordingly, the School Board's request that the Court dismiss Lewis' remaining Equal Protection claim on this basis is DENIED.

In short, the district court agreed with Lower Merion (and rejected plaintiffs argument for applying strict scrutiny), but found there are sufficient facts on which discriminatory purpose could be inferred (which would trigger strict scrutiny) and set the case for trial.

February 26, 2014 in Discrimination, Racial Integration and Diversity | Permalink | Comments (0)