Open Letter to U.S. Secretary of Education
March 25, 2010
The Hon. Arne Duncan
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202-1510
RE:Â Â Â Â Â Â OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS FAILURE TO FOCUS ON LAUSD’S LOW ACHIEVING BLACK STUDENTS
Dear Mr. Secretary:
The Black community in Los Angeles is pleased to hear that there is a renewed focus in the Office for Civil Rights concerning civil rights violations in public education; however we are deeply disturbed over the failure of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to target low-achieving Black students in the LAUSD compliance review.
Speaking on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in observance of “Bloody Sunday” where hundreds of civil rights protesters were brutally beaten by state troopers, you said, “The federal government is going to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement…The truth is that in the last decade, the Office for Civil Rights has not been as vigilant as it should be. That is about to change.” “With a strict adherence to statutory and case law, we’re going to make Dr. King’s dream of a colorblind society a reality.”
Mr. Secretary, you used the occasion and that setting – with its deep meaning to the Black community, to outline the Department’s plans to conduct civil rights compliance reviews in school districts throughout the country. You also cited several highly disturbing inequities between Black and white students, including the following:
* At the end of high school, white students are as much as six times more likely to be college-ready as Black students in certain academic area;
* Black students without disabilities are more than three times as likely to be expelled as white students and those with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be expelled or suspended, which you said testifies to racial gaps that are, “hard to explain away by reference to the usual suspects.”
Mr. Secretary, OCR’s compliance review of LAUSD targets English Language Learners (ELL) only, even though Black students are the district’s lowest achievers. In fact, it is our understanding that low achievement of African American students is the very core of OCR’s investigations nationwide. Why not in Los Angeles? Given the performance inequities within LAUSD, a failure to proactively accord Black students top priority is unconscionable. It should not be either/or, but both/and: Black students deserve the same special consideration in Los Angeles as they are apparently slated to receive by the office of Civil Rights in other school districts throughout the nation.
The fact that English Language Learners represent approximately one third of LAUSD students-and Latinos are approaching 80% of the total enrollment-in no way obviates the need to directly and proactively target Black students as well.
OCR’s strategy of exclusion in the nation’s second largest school district is very disturbing and has caused a significant stir in the African American community in Los Angeles. Although seldom acknowledged, many Black students have language needs comparable to those of English Language Learners; apparently, this too was not a consideration in your decision. Given this backdrop, there are those in the African American community who are already claiming that the decision was largely political, and not based on clear needs, as defined by student performance. Whatever the reason for the initial and highly visible exclusion, OCR’s approach strikes us as the latest in a seemingly endless pattern of institutional neglect of Black students that must be rectified.
In their recent visit to Los Angeles to describe the approach that would be undertaken by the Office of Civil Rights, federal representatives from OCR made it clear that although African American children were the lowest performing segment within LAUSD, their inclusion in the present compliance review would require the filing of a complaint by an organization – something that was not required of Latino organizations to initiate your involvement. We believe this practice is both disturbing and flawed, and we urge you to immediately correct this approach.
LAUSD has never sustained programs targeting Black students; a prime example is the African American Learners Initiative (2001) that was approved by the LAUSD Board of Education but never funded or implemented. As U.S. Secretary of Education, you and OCR should be aware that programs such as the Blueprint for Action and the Education is a Civil Right Initiative are widely supported by the Black community as alternatives to traditional approaches that continue to fail Black students.
Fairness and equity for Black students is of the utmost importance to us and we are requesting a meeting and/or timely response to this letter indicating OCR’s commitment to immediately include all Black students in the compliance review in Los Angeles.
Sincerely, (Partial List)
Larry Aubry, Convener-Black Education Task Force
Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Executive-Director Community Coalition
Leon Jenkins, President-NAACP-Los Angeles
Rev. Eric P. Lee, President- SCLC-Los Angeles
Blair Taylor, President- The Urban League-Los Angeles
Cc: Senator Gloria Romero, Chair, Senate Education Committee
Jack O’Connell, Superintendent CA Public Education
Ramon Cortines, Superintendent LAUSD
Monica Garcia, President, LAUSD Board of Education
Marguerite LaMotte, Member, LAUSD Board of Education