Archives for category: Civil Rights

Please sign up and join the discussion between Steve Suitts and me on Zoom on Wednesday September 16. We will be talking about Steve’s new book Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement. You will be amazed to learn of the true history of school choice. It is definitely not the “civil rights issue of our time,” as Trump and DeVos claim.

Steve has been involved in civil rights work throughout his career. He was founding director of the Alabama Civil Liberties Union; executive director of the Southern Regional Council; and vice president of the Southern Education Foundation. He is also the author of a biography of Hugo Black, a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice who played a large role in history.

You can sign up here.

Steve and I will talk for an hour, and then we will open the floor for your questions.

In an effort to fire up his base, Trump identified three of the most extreme rightwing Senators as next in line for a Supreme Court appointment. One is Ted Cruz of Texas. During the 2016 campaign, Trump claimed that Ted Cruz was a key figure in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Apparently he told author Bob Woodward that he placed the story in the National Enquirer, even picked the photo of Cruz to run on the first page. If Trump should win, that’s the end of abortion, federal support for health care, and gay rights, as well as public schools, environmental protection and every progressive accomplishment of the past 50 years. Expect universal vouchers for religious schools and an explosion of charter schools. Expect a dramatic contraction of federal protection for civil rights. We can’t let it happen. We can’t throw away nearly a century of modernism.

President Trump on Wednesday named Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Josh Hawley (Mo.) to his shortlist of potential nominees for the Supreme Court should he win a second term.

Trump’s announcement, aimed at firing up conservatives eight weeks before the election, reflects the degree to which he has supercharged the politicization of the judicial branch, plunging the court system more deeply into the partisan fray than at any time since five Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents delivered the White House to George W. Bush in 2000.

All three senators have been plotting potential 2024 presidential campaigns of their own. Each man has been crystal clear that he would support overturning reproductive rights codified in Roe v. Wade, strike down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety and rule against LGBTQ rights if given the chance.

I was there with my husband Richard. Dick was a close friend of Bayard Rustin, one of the day’s organizers. We took the train To Washington. We met with Dick’s law school classmate, Clifford Alexander, who was Secretary of the Army in LBJ’s administration. (Cliff was the father of Michelle Alexander, who later became a celebrated writer.) I was eager to join the march. Dick and I left Cliff in his Office, and we went to the march, to mingle with the hundreds of thousands assembled peaceably on the Mall. It was a thrilling experience, organized by A. Philip Randolph and many labor unions, who supplied money, workers, buses, and organizers.

On this day in 1963, more than 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, now known as the March on Washington. The march was the brainchild of civil rights activists A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, who once said, “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.” They worked diligently for nearly two years, convincing members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to put aside their differences and participate.

The president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, needed support for the passage of his Civil Rights Act, and gave his approval, as long as there would be no violence. Two days of protests, speeches, and sit-ins were planned. On August 27, thousands of people began pouring into the city. They came by bus, train, and air from Milwaukee, St. Louis, Birmingham, California, with water jugs and picnic baskets and Bibles. Chicago and New York declared August 28 “Freedom Day” and gave workers the day off. The city of Washington, D.C., banned liquor sales for the first time since Prohibition, hospitals stocked blood plasma and canceled elective surgeries, and the Pentagon amassed 19,000 troops in the suburbs, just in case things got violent.

There was not one single arrest, and no violence. Marchers linked hands, they sang, and they chanted all the way from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where the 16th speaker of the day, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., began what would become one of the greatest speeches in history with, “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

This past June, half a million protestors were in the streets in multiple cities on a single day in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police.

Grassroots Arkansas is a coalition of parents and civil rights activists. When reading anything about Arkansas, bear in mind that in the background is the Walton Family. They pull the strings.

Grassroots Arkansas sent the following letter to Mike Poore, the state-appointed superintendent of the Little Rock School District:

Mr. Poore,

We realize that you have been serving the LRSD community as Superintendent for four years now, at the behest of Governor Asa Hutchinson and AR Sec. of Education, Johnny Key, and not at the will of the people of our community.

We are yet seeking your humanity and your ability to appreciate that you have the power and the authority to right some wrongs during your administration.

Under your watch, LRSD students have NOT experienced safety and equity in their public school education.

African American and Latinx students have disproportionately been over criminalized with you as Superintendent. Though, Johnny Key has the authority to overturn your decisions or make decisions without your permission, you have not shown strong leadership in protecting the students and educators you have been entrusted to serve.

Again, I understand that you were not brought here to make things better for our LRSD community, but to further promote the agenda of the billionaires who have used their wealth and power to dismantle public schools all over this country.

My appeal to you is to get off the train of destruction and join the moral movement to overturn systems of racism, poverty, and the oppression that results from both.

You have seen and read the news reports: nothing good comes from forcing educators and students back into classrooms during this Covid-19/Corona crisis.

Surely, you don’t want the blood of students and their families, school bus drivers, school cafeteria workers, school nurses, school environmental service workers, school secretaries, school teachers, school librarians, school counselors, school social workers, school paraprofessionals, and other school personnel and administrators on your hands.

Surely, you don’t want to put yourself at further risk of testing positive and potentially dying for the sake of helping billionaires stay ridiculously wealthy, while the community you are serving gets sicker and experiences mass, untimely and avoidable deaths under your watch.

We know that you have children and grandchildren. We hope that you would protect our LRSD community with as much or more love and protection with which you provide them.

We are asking you to take the high road of moral justice by calling for temporary remote, safe and equitable schooling until reputable scientists say so. And, we hope that you will wait until the number of persons in our being infected and dying by Covid-19/the Corona Virus are what we experienced in mid March of this year when you called for LRSD school buildings to temporarily close.

This is a more than reasonable ask of you.

You owe it to us to engage in a school by school assessment to ensure that no students or educators are without necessary means and access to the effective resources they need to begin safe schooling remotely on August 24, 2020.

Upholding Justice and Human Love,

Rev. Dr. Anika T. Whitfield
LRSD community member
Grassroots Arkansas, co-chair
Arkansas Poor People’s Campaign, co-chair

The University of Kentucky College of Education and the NAACP have agreed to establish a research center at the university to address issues of concern to African American communities. The driving force behind this project is the new Dean of the College, Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, who is a nationally recognized scholar on equity policies. Heilig has written extensively about civil rights, charter schools, and Teach for America. He is a founding board member of the Network for Public Education.

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post:

The NAACP, the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States, is launching a new education initiative with the University of Kentucky that will provide a home for Black faculty to conduct and disseminate research on the community in a new way.


The enterprise marks the first time that the NAACP has joined with university-based education scholars to help address racial inequities that for decades have plagued public schools around the country.


“It’s a brand new paradigm,” said Julian Vasquez Heilig, dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Education who has served on the NAACP executive committee and as the education chair for the NAACP’s California Hawaii State Conference. “There is no playbook.”


Vasquez Heilig, who is the initiative’s mastermind, said research will be done not by finding topics in the halls of academia, as is usually done, but rather in African American communities.


The idea here is to go to communities and understand what research they think needs to be done,” he said in an interview. “Instead of going to communities in the colonial way and taking research, we are asking what research they think is important to do.”


The focus of the initiative’s work will be to advance and protect education for students from preschool through higher education — with an emphasis on race-based discrimination. Special attention will be paid to students from underserved communities in Kentucky, which reflects many around the country.


The initiative will also seek to understand the challenges of students who are marginalized in the education sector based on factors including ability, gender, ethnicity, age and sexuality — and it will explore the intersectionality of these identities.


The agreement for the new initiative — for which a director and researchers have been hired — was signed by Vasquez Heilig, NAACP president and chief executive Derrick Johnson, NAACP Chairman Leon W. Russell and David Blackwell, the provost of the University of Kentucky. It will be based in the department of educational policy studies and evaluation at the College of Education at the university, which is largely funding the initiative.


These scholars will partner with students, educators, and communities to document the experiences of those facing educational disparities and use research to shape public policy,” Johnson said in a statement. “To see change, we must focus on discipline policies, school funding structures, college and career readiness initiatives, and our own great teachers in underserved communities.”


The director of the initiative is Gregory Vincent, a renowned civil rights attorney who just joined the faculty of the University of Kentucky. He is also the outgoing Grand Sire Archon of the Boule’, the nation’s first Greek-letter fraternity founded by African American men.


Researchers hired for the initiative include Sarah LaCour, arriving from the University of Colorado at Boulder, who will serve as an assistant director of the civil rights initiative, and Cheryl Matias, a scholar who studies culturally responsive education practices.

A group of civil rights and education organizations have filed suit against Betsy DeVos, who seeks to divert public funding to private schools. Say this for DeVos: She is maddeningly consistent in her efforts to fund private schools. Whether authorized or not, she presses forward on behalf of the private school sector. She doesn’t care about public schools or their students. She wants them to open in the middle of a pandemic without regard to safety of students or teachers.

DEVOS SUED BY PUBLIC SCHOOL PARENTS, NAACP, AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS TO BLOCK ILLEGAL RULE THAT DIVERTS CRITICAL COVID-19 AID FROM PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO PRIVATE SCHOOLS

A rule issued by the U.S. Department of Education this month coerces school districts to use an illegal process to inflate the amount of federal COVID-19 aid they must share with private schools. The rule will drastically diminish the resources available to support public school children and historically underserved student populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a lawsuit filed today by public school parents, districts, and the NAACP. The lawsuit seeks to block the rule.

The lawsuit, NAACP v. DeVos, explains that the rule imposes illegal and harmful requirements on the emergency relief funds allocated to public school districts under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Under the rule, school districts must divert more funding for “equitable services” to private school students than the law requires or face onerous restrictions on the use of those funds in their public schools. Both options violate the clear language and intent of the CARES Act and will undermine district efforts to adequately serve students who desperately need services and supports due to the impacts of the pandemic.

The CARES Act directs public school districts to calculate the amount they must set aside for private schools based on the number of low-income students enrolled in private schools. However, DeVos’ rule forces school districts to comply with one of two illegal options, either: (1) allocate CARES Act funds for private schools based on all students enrolled in private school, which includes students from affluent families, or (2) allocate these funds based on the number of low-income students at private schools, but face severe restrictions on how the rest of the district’s CARES Act funds can be used, including a prohibition on their use to serve any students who do not attend Title I schools.

The rule was first introduced in April as non-binding guidance from Secretary DeVos and received widespread criticism from education leaders and lawmakers that the guidance violated the CARES Act and would leave districts without resources essential to address the impacts of COVID-19. Several state attorneys general have also filed suit to challenge these new rules.

“Amid a national health crisis, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is robbing public school children of desperately needed relief and diverting it to private schools,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO, NAACP. “This is a new low, even for an administration intent on promoting inequality in education. Children and families across the nation are facing unprecedented risks to their safety and educational opportunities. COVID-19 has magnified the hardships for children from low-income households and diminished access to quality instruction, digital technology, nutrition, social development, and other vital resources. These are consequences that will last a lifetime.”

“Forcing districts to spend even more funding on private schools exacerbates existing inequities in Arizona,” said Beth Lewis, Title I school parent and teacher in the Tempe Elementary School District and cofounder of grassroots advocacy group Save Our Schools Arizona. “Our public schools have been defunded for decades and already lose hundreds of millions of dollars to private schools via vouchers every single year. Secretary DeVos’s binding rule forces our neighborhood schools to give desperately needed federal aid to private schools that have already accepted small business bailouts. Meanwhile, Title I public schools like mine have to rely on local charities and donors to help us feed students and stock classrooms. This rule will harm the students and families who need resources the most.”

“Secretary DeVos’ new rule is plainly illegal because it violates the clear language and congressional intent of the CARES Act,” said Jessica Levin, Director of the Public Funds Public Schools campaign, a collaboration of the organizations that represent the plaintiffs in the case. “The impact on students and schools will be severe, as the rule shows complete disregard for the reality that public schools need increased resources as they continue to serve 90% of our nation’s students during this incredibly challenging time.”

The coronavirus pandemic has focused the nation’s attention on the essential role public schools play in the lives of families and communities. Since closing buildings in March, public schools across the country have worked tirelessly to maintain instruction and provide students with meals, access to technology, health services, and social and emotional supports. Public schools now need more – not fewer – resources. Yet, Secretary DeVos continues to exploit the pandemic to promote her political agenda of funneling taxpayer dollars to private schools.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are represented pro bono by the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP, as well as Education Law Center (ELC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), all of whom collaborate on Public Funds Public Schools.

Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center
60 Park Place, Suite 300
Newark, NJ 07102
973-624-1815, ext. 24
skrengel@edlawcenter.org

Steve Suitts is a civil rights lawyer who has worked for the Southern Education Foundation for many years. His recent book Overturning Brown documents the segregationist history of the school choice movement.

He wrote recently that the Espinoza decision, which awards public money to religious schools, is another step in the Supreme Court’s reversal of the Brown decision.

In a case decided on the grounds of religious freedom, the US Supreme Court took another big step on June 30 in supporting religious discrimination in publicly financed schooling and, more broadly, in overturning Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 landmark opinion that promised the end of racial segregation in public education.

The Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that the US Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom prohibits a state from excluding religious schools when it finances attendance in private schools. There should be no misunderstanding about what this case means in regard to religion: states are now free to finance private schools that discriminate against students on the basis of students’ religions.

As troubling as that holding is, the opinion also constitutes a major, often ignored long-term impact on school desegregation. Today most students attending private schools are in religious schools, and most religious schools are effectively segregated and exclusionary by race. For this reason, Espinoza constitutes a regrettable, and significant, decision in the Supreme Court’s long and certain movement over the last forty years to overturn the Brown decision…

Advocates of “school choice” claim they are advancing religious freedom, social justice, and civil rights when in fact, as I document in “Segregationists, Libertarians, and the Modern ‘School Choice’ Movement,” they echo the language and tactics used by southern segregationists in their efforts to evade school desegregation after Brown. It is there—in the history of the segregationists’ fight against Brown and in how the federal courts addressed their strategies—that the long-range impact of Espinoza becomes evident.

In the years following Brown, southern states passed dozens of bills to condemn and frustrate school desegregation. The overall strategy of massive resistance was based on two basic tactics. One was placing pupils in public schools according to what the segregationists claimed were children’s “ability to learn”—which they believed, but after Brown carefully avoiding saying, was inherently different due to race. The other was funding vouchers for private academies where segregationists were free to set up exclusionary admission standards.

Jan Resseger writes here to refute Trump and Betsy DeVos’s ridiculous claim that school choice is a “civil rights issue.” As she points out, charter schools and vouchers divert funding from the public schools that most children of color attend. School choice is responsible for budget cuts to public schools.

Privatized educational alternatives like charter schools and vouchers for private school tuition not only extract public funds needed in the public school system to serve 50 million American children, but they also undermine our rights as citizens and our children’s rights. Only in the public schools, which are governed democratically according to the law, can our society protect the rights of all children.

The late political philosopher, Benjamin Barber, warns about what we all lose when we try to privatize the public good: “Privatization is a kind of reverse social contract: it dissolves the bonds that tie us together into free communities and democratic republics. It puts us back in the state of nature where we possess a natural right to get whatever we can on our own, but at the same time lose any real ability to secure that to which we have a right. Private choices rest on individual power… personal skills… and personal luck. Public choices rest on civic rights and common responsibilities, and presume equal rights for all. Public liberty is what the power of common endeavor establishes, and hence presupposes that we have constituted ourselves as public citizens by opting into the social contract. With privatization, we are seduced back into the state of nature by the lure of private liberty and particular interest; but what we experience in the end is an environment in which the strong dominate the weak… the very dilemma which the original social contract was intended to address.” (Consumed, pp. 143-144)

What she does not mention is that the demand for school choice originated with Southern governors in response to the a Brown decision. From its origins, school choice was rooted in racism. Last year, Steve Suitts of the Southern Education Foundation wrote an important monograph about the origins of school choice. It was supposed to block civil rights, not advance them.

In his speech about reforming policing, Trump veered off into a bizarre claim that school choice is the “civil rights issue of our time.” See the video here. At a time when hundreds of thousands of people are demonstrating for social and economic justice and against police brutality and racism, it is odd to hear Trump veer off into school choice as the solution for the evils that stain our society.

We have heard this statement before, many times. President Obama said it; Arne Duncan said it; Mitt Romney said it; Betsy DeVos says it often; and Trump said it before in his first State of the Union address to Congress after the 2016 election.

Let me be clear: School choice is NOT the civil rights issue of our time.

Civil rights is the civil rights issue of our time.

By civil rights, I mean the right to vote without intimidation or voter suppression.

I mean the right to equal treatment by the police and the courts and equality before the law without regard to one’s race or economic status.

I mean the right to attend a well-resourced public school that offers an excellent education.

I mean the right to acquire as much education as one desires, without regard to one’s income.

I mean the right to good medical care, so that one’s income doesn’t determine access to health care.

I mean the right to a decent standard of living.

School choice is most certainly not a “civil right,” because it exacerbates all kinds of segregation–by income, by race, by religion, and by social status. School choice undercuts equality of educational opportunity.

Civil rights is the civil rights issue of our time.

In a stunning surprise, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that LGBT workers are protected by the Civil Rights Act. In the biggest surprise, the decision was 6-3 and was written by Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch.

What a nice surprise for Pride Month!

Adam Liptak of the New York Times wrote:

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a landmark civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination, handing the movement for L.G.B.T. equality a stunning victory.

The vote was 6 to 3, with Justice Neil M. Gorsuch writing the majority opinion. He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The case concerned Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin and sex. The question for the justices was whether that last prohibition — discrimination “because of sex”— applies to many millions of gay and transgender workers.

The decision, covering two cases, was the court’s first on L.G.B.T. rights since the retirement in 2018 of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinions in all four of the court’s major gay rights decisions.

Those decisions were grounded in constitutional law. The new cases, by contrast, concerned statutory interpretation.

Lawyers for employers and the Trump administration argued that the common understanding of sex discrimination in 1964 was bias against women or men and did not encompass discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. If Congress wanted to protect gay and transgender workers, they said, it could pass a new law.

Lawyers for the workers responded that discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation or transgender status must as a matter of logic take account of sex.

The court considered two sets of cases. The first concerned a pair of lawsuits from gay men who said they were fired because of their sexual orientation. The second was about a suit from a transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, who said her employer fired her when she announced that she would embrace her gender identity at work.

The cases concerning gay rights are Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., No. 17-1618, and Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, No. 17-1623.

The first case was filed by Gerald Bostock, a gay man who was fired from a government program that helped neglected and abused children in Clayton County, Ga., just south of Atlanta, after he joined a gay softball league.

The second was brought by a skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, who also said he was fired because he was gay. His dismissal followed a complaint from a female customer who had expressed concerns about being strapped to Mr. Zarda during a tandem dive. Mr. Zarda, hoping to reassure the customer, told her that he was “100 percent gay.”

Mr. Zarda died in a 2014 skydiving accident, and his estate pursued his case.

Most federal appeals courts have interpreted Title VII to exclude sexual orientation discrimination. But two of them, in New York and Chicago, have ruled that discrimination against gay men and lesbians is a form of sex discrimination.

In 2018, a divided 13-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, allowed Mr. Zarda’s lawsuit to proceed. Writing for the majority, Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann concluded that “sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination.”