Posted on March 9, 2010

Obama Administration: More Civil Rights Enforcement in Schools

Amanda Paulson, Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 2010

Education Secretary Arne Duncan signaled Monday the Obama administration’s intention to step up enforcement of civil rights laws that apply to schools and colleges, many of which are often ignored.

In remarks delivered in Selma, Ala, timed to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the marches in which civil rights protesters were brutally attacked by police, Secretary Duncan said, “The truth is that, in the last decade, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has not been as vigilant as it should have been in combating gender and racial discrimination and protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities. But that is about to change . . . . We are going to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement.”

In particular, Duncan {snip} highlighted certain indicators that point to inequities existing today:

* Upon finishing high school, white students are about six times more likely to be college-ready in biology than African-American students. In algebra, they’re four-plus times more likely.

* Just 12 percent of high schools produce half the dropouts in America. Three-fourths of African-American and Latino come from those schools.

* African-American students without disabilities are more than three times as likely to be expelled as their white peers.

Duncan also pointed to a Denver Post investigation that showed that three-quarters of teachers who had been let go and had trouble finding another teaching job over the past four years were placed in high-poverty schools.


In a conference call with reporters, Ms. Ali [Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary of education for civil rights] said, “You can expect to see our compliance reviews be a little broader in terms of issues” than in the past. The OCR, she said, will also be issuing 17 guidance letters to schools over a wide range of civil rights issues, including disabilities, access to math and science (or STEM) courses, sexual violence, and food allergies.

Rather than just determining whether a district complies with the letter of the law in certain areas, the department will look at what the outcomes are for students, Duncan said in the conference call. “This is really about us trying to close achievement gaps,” he said.


Professor Orfield [Gary Orfield, a professor at University of California in Los Angeles and co-director of the Civil Rights Project] says he hopes the administration will make a concentrated effort on issues like segregation–which has grown harder to make strides in after a 2007 Supreme Court case restricted the ways that districts can use race in determining which schools students attend. He also hopes it will follow up the tough rhetoric with real repercussions for districts that don’t comply, such as withholding funding.