Civil Rights Platform

Save Our Schools People’s Education Civil Rights Platform
Chair: Dr. Sherick Hughes and Ceresta Smith
Finalized at the People’s Convention August 3-5, 2012


Why is civil rights an important part in achieving the goal of every child having access and tools for becoming an empowered member of a democratic society? Most state-level constitutions include an “education article” which speaks to that state’s legal duty to provide K-12 public education as a civil right for all children. While the state-level constitutions guarantee K-12 public schooling, it is actually the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that is supposed to secure the education-related civil rights of social justice and equity for every child attending a public K-12 school. Together the state and federal constitutions suggest an equal opportunity to teach and learn for all. Yet, past and present educational history is filled with evidence to the contrary.

Civil Rights issues in education today are having a detrimental influence on this country, because the country is only as strong as the family with the least opportunities and access to the educational tools for becoming empowered members of our democratic society. The six key civil rights issues described below are prominent in educational research, theory, practice, and policy today, and they are the focus of this document. All six issues approached by the authors can be best understood, perhaps, within the context of the aftermath of seminal desegregation cases, Mendez and Brown, as well as the current high stakes accountability testing culture that has developed through the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT) national education policies.

Twenty two (22) diverse scholar-activists in the field of Education, representing experiences of the North, South, East, West, and Midwest regions of the U.S. have contributed to this document. Their names and the specific civil rights issue(s) to which they contributed are previewed in the following text. At the conclusion of the 2012 SOS Convention, the main body of the SOS Civil Rights document will be finalized. This document intends to address and move beyond the goals of the relatively recent White House initiatives and commissions for “excellence” in “Latino/a” and “Black/African American” education by adding breadth and depth to the issues, and to raise some of the most promising practices that will steer our coalition through collective action toward equity, excellence, and social justice.

1. Desegregation/Resegregation and Social Justice — Schools in many cities are racially isolated. Overall, the nation’s schools are the most segregated that they have been since the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This issue is important because racially isolated schools are almost always inequitable, especially when they are filled with African-, Latino-, Native-American or immigrant youth. There is no doubt that the battle for civil rights fought by African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans was, and is, particularly bloody and hard fought. People were killed, dogs were commanded to attack, and fire hoses unleashed— all to suppress the press for equity by people of color. Thus it is not a surprise that the concept of civil rights has been racialized as well by opponents. Moreover, the privatization movement’s charter and vouchers schools are literally denying access to children of color and the impoverished.

This movement to privatize schools has resurrected the denial of access to many public schools to some of the most vulnerable children. In fact, many communities have reverted back to the Separate but Equal Doctrine as decided by the Plessy vs Ferguson Case of 1896. It is part of a strategy to isolate people of color from others also inflicted by efforts to keep them unequal in law and custom. Yet there were many parallel movements that have also benefited from the Civil Rights Movement and it is important to remember that these movements make it important to expand the commonplace understanding of cui bono. Embracing these social costs and benefits by allowing each to be centered in dialogue and policy without weighing one against the other is one important step en route to social justice and diversity responsive schools.

(Contributors: Sherick Hughes, George Noblit, Judy Rabin, Bill Hawley, and Rebecca James Wolf)

2. Disproportionality: Special & Gifted Education and Disciplinary Actions) (including School-To-Prison Pipeline)– Nationally, we have over 38 years of research on the issue of Black/African American, Latino/a, and impoverished youth being misguided/misplaced into Special Education (largely high-incidence highly subjective special education categories like ADD, LD, ADHD, ED, and BEH). When students are in special education and should not be there or vice versa, there are anticipated negative consequences in the life trajectories of those youth. Those youth are also disproportionately and inequitably recommended for harsh disciplinary actions at school, and they are disproportionately not recommended for gifted education.

There is some evidence that youth in foster care are among the youth most influenced by the disproportionality phenomenon. In addition, the school-to-prison pipeline issue has emerged as an ancillary element of this phenomenon. Therefore, it has become imperative to address the school-to-prison pipeline as well, and particularly how the pipeline for some students might begin at disproportionality in classrooms, schools, districts, regions, and states in the U. S.

(Contributors: Sherick Hughes, Beth Harry, James Martinez, Ann Unterreiner, and Phil Kellerman, William Ayers, Leslie Rebecca Bloom, Kevin Kumashiro, Crystal Laura, Chris Mack, Erica Meiners, Kate Phillippo, Amira Proweller, and Gerri Spinella [Chicago’s CReATE with permission from Kevin Kumashiro])

3. Urban/Rural Education: Poverty and Inequitable Funding—Providing adequate and equitable resources is essential to providing an equal and equitable opportunity to learn. School funding policies and practices across the nation vary greatly from state to state, and today there is no state that that provides sufficient resources to ensure quality schooling for all. With school funding based heavily on local property wealth, it is the urban schools that serve large proportions of poor, minority, and immigrant children that are most negatively impacted by such unfair funding.

It is time for the federal government to recognize children’s rights to a quality education by aggressively enforcing existing Civil Rights Act provisions and the Fourteenth Amendment or to enact other long-overdue protections that are needed to meet the learning needs of all children, preserve the social fabric of our democracy, and prepare all children for responsible adulthood and successfully contributing to the nation’s economy.

(Contributors: Sherick Hughes, Paul Gorski, Odis Johnson, Dianne DeVries, and Shirley A. Rickett)

4. ELL/Bilingual Education Policy– While English Language Learners and Bilingual learners are growing in many public schools nationwide, their rights to receive an equal and equitable opportunity to learn is suspended in the schools without the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and personnel to serve those students and their families adequately, thereby failing to ensure their constitutional civil rights. New immigrant Latino families seem to comprise the most vulnerable ELL/Bilingual youth. The deficit thinking of NCLB/RTTT is applied by too many districts and contributes to misguided approaches to addressing the learning needs of so-called “documented” and “undocumented” students and their families.

For example, the Gaston Institute at UMASS-Boston describe blatant widespread denial of equal education to ELL students following the passage of the Unz Initiative which ended bilingual education. This measure has denied ELL students the opportunity to receive equal access to education as mandated by Chapter 7. The Unz Initiative was brought to Massachusetts by former Governor Mitt Romney, who vowed to end bilingual education during his gubernatorial campaign. In many urban school districts, where rampant school closings are occurring, successful bilingual programs are being slashed, and many students in need of this program end up in school with no such programs.

(Contributors: James Martinez, Ann Unterreiner, and Phil Kellerman)

5. Bullying, Harassment, Homophobia and the Right to Safe Learning Space– School violence includes both the extreme acts that capture the media’s attention as well as the everyday, chronic harassment that often flies under the radar of school disciplinary policies and security measures, undetected by safety officers and surveillance cameras. Events involving extremely dangerous violence are rare, and rates of gun violence on school grounds have actually declined in recent years in the U.S. More widespread is the chronic harassment of peers, which has serious negative implications for both academic achievement and physical and emotional health. Among the most common student behaviors that threaten the safety of others are cyber-bullying, physical intimidation, and harassment. These safety threats are particularly problematic regarding gender and sexuality.

(Contributors: William Ayers, Leslie Rebecca Bloom, Kevin Kumashiro, Crystal Laura, Chris Mack, Erica Meiners, Kate Phillippo, Amira Proweller, and Gerri Spinella [Chicago’s CReATE with permission from Kevin Kumashiro])

6. Intellectually Biased Policies that Promote Isolation — There are obvious ways in which current laws allow for a separate and unequal education. Many of these are discussed daily. A cursory review of headlines exposes discriminatory practices. Our nations’ most prestigious schools restrict enrollment solely on the basis of a single admissions test score. In New York a coalition of educational and civil rights groups notes High School entrance examinations are racially biased. Black/African American and Latino/a students are disproportionately excluded. The selection process furthers the physical divide that exists in our urban communities. Segregation also survives in rural America. Schools are not funded equally. Court cases are filed, evidence is submitted. Judges acknowledge the veracity and yet, do nothing to end the practice.

Little can be done when laws allow for racial intolerance. For years, Americans advocated for equity. Today, we endorse discrimination. In Florida, Officials Defend Racial and Ethnic Learning Goals. The Florida Board of Education, in October 2012, voted to set different standards for student achievement dependant on race and ethnicity. Student evaluations in reading and math will be judged based on other guidelines as well. However, skin color may be weighed more heavily than other factors. And why not? The conventional wisdom that passes for fact, substantiates the notion that people of color are just intellectually less able.

The perilous and pernicious divide seen in Florida is not unique. The state of Virginia, currently sanctions separate standards. New Achievement Standards Based On Race And Background were adopted in the summer months. A portion of the approved state’s standards now mandates that a specific percentage of students, determined by race, need to pass school exams. Standards of Learning benchmarks differ dependent on the color of a child’s skin. Black/African American students are not [or cannot be] expected to do as well as White/European Americans. Asians, on the other hand, are expected to outperform their White/European American peers. Today, America is an equal opportunity discriminator.

A recently released book “Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended To Help, And Why Universities Won’t Admit It” has received favorable reviews. The text challenges the fragilely held truth; people of different races are inherently equal. Even the Supreme Court has chosen to revisit legislation that gives people of color a chance. Affirmative Action laws may be overturned. Through actions, the policy was already reversed.

Legislation and modern “literature” is reflective of a larger problem. Racial discrimination is pervasive and takes many forms. When the question of intellect fails to “weed-out” the unwanted elements, otherwise known as racially or ethnic diverse student populations, disciplinary practices can and do ensure isolation. Black/African American Students Face More Harsh Discipline, Data Shows. The statement, “Children must be kept in line,” takes on a newer meaning when it is applied to our children of color.

As we might understand, today, Americans sanction and strengthen policies that encourage isolation and ensure that people of color are considered intellectually unequal.

(Contributors: Betsy L. Angert])