Archives for category: Civil Rights

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.”

The AFT issued this statement:

Statement by AFT President Randi Weingarten on Jobs Report

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement after the U.S. jobs report showed the loss of more than half a million additional public sector layoffs amid a rebound in private sector jobs:

“The jobs report out today confirms what we already know: The CARES Act is working, but if we don’t act now on a new round of stimulus for states, communities and schools, then millions more Americans will be out of work.

“An additional 585,000 public sector jobs were lost, following a drop of 963,000 in April. That includes another 375,000 educators, for a total of 750,000 so far during the COVID-19 pandemic, double the carnage of the Great Recession.

“The numbers are an argument for state and local aid, not against it. Business wants to come back, but we can’t halt stimulus now, particularly for states and schools, otherwise we’ll be confronting a fresh slump that will wreak havoc for years.

“We are in the midst of three crises: a pandemic, an economic crisis and a crisis of systemic racism. The news that private sector jobs grew was a step in the right direction, but these crises are far from over.

“The president’s comments today about George Floyd were tone-deaf. Floyd was murdered by police, and racial inequalities remain unaddressed. The report showed that Black unemployment rose, as African Americans continue to feel the disproportionate effects of the downturn.

“There are no magic fixes for this economy—only a path to recovery if we keep up the stimulus and investments to fund, rather than forfeit, the future. We urgently need the federal funding included in the HEROES Act that helps states, cities, towns and schools weather this rolling storm. If we fail to act, essential services will be gutted, schools won’t be able to reopen and public employees will stay laid off.”

The Network for Public Education has sponsored a series of weekly ZOOM conversations in which I interview someone who has important things to say.

On Wednesday, I interviewed Jitu Brown, a prominent community organizer in Chicago and leader of the Journey for Justice Alliance, which has organizations in thirty cities.

When we set up the discussion, we thought we would talk mostly about privatization and Jitu Brown’s successful fight to save the Walter H. Dyett High School in Chicago. Jitu Brown is one of the heroes of my new book SLAYING GOLIATH, for his success in stopping Rahm Emanuel from closing Dyett.

These topics were discussed but the main focus was on the murder of George Floyd and racism in America. Jitu Brown has quite a lot to say about racism, in large part because of his experiences. We also talked about a Rahm Emanuel, and his disastrous role in running the public schools as mayor of Chicago.

Listeners said it was a “riveting” conversation.

Listen and see for yourself.

Next week, I will talk with Amy Frogge, a great leader of the resistance to privatization in Metro Nashville. She is a member of the Metro Nashville public school board, as well as a parent of public school students and a lawyer.

She too is a hero of SLAYING GOLIATH for her leadership in defending public schools.

We will talk about “The Fight for Better Public Schools in Tennessee.” The billionaires and their puppet organizations have poured many millions into school board races in an effort to capture control of the district. Amy has fought valiantly against proponents of charters and vouchers.

This is a battle that is being played out in urban districts across the nation.

Join us on Zoom on June 10 at 7:30 pm, EST.

The following assemblage of citations from Dr. King’s life was prepared by the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.


Nonviolence

As a theologian, Martin Luther King reflected often on his understanding of nonviolence. He described his own “pilgrimage to nonviolence” in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, and in subsequent books and articles. “True pacifism,” or “nonviolent resistance,” King wrote, is “a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love” (King, Stride, 80). Both “morally and practically” committed to nonviolence, King believed that “the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom” (King, Stride, 79; Papers 5:422).

King was first introduced to the concept of nonviolence when he read Henry David Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience as a freshman at Morehouse College. Having grown up in Atlanta and witnessed segregation and racism every day, King was “fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system” (King, Stride, 73).

In 1950, as a student at Crozer Theological Seminary, King heard a talk by Dr. Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University. Dr. Johnson, who had recently traveled to India, spoke about the life and teachings of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Gandhi, King later wrote, was the first person to transform Christian love into a powerful force for social change. Gandhi’s stress on love and nonviolence gave King “the method for social reform that I had been seeking” (King, Stride, 79).

While intellectually committed to nonviolence, King did not experience the power of nonviolent direct action first-hand until the start of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. During the boycott, King personally enacted Gandhian principles. With guidance from black pacifist Bayard Rustin and Glenn Smiley of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, King eventually decided not to use armed bodyguards despite threats on his life, and reacted to violent experiences, such as the bombing of his home, with compassion. Through the practical experience of leading nonviolent protest, King came to understand how nonviolence could become a way of life, applicable to all situations. King called the principle of nonviolent resistance the “guiding light of our movement. Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method” (Papers 5:423).

King’s notion of nonviolence had six key principles. First, one can resist evil without resorting to violence. Second, nonviolence seeks to win the “friendship and understanding” of the opponent, not to humiliate him (King, Stride, 84). Third, evil itself, not the people committing evil acts, should be opposed. Fourth, those committed to nonviolence must be willing to suffer without retaliation as suffering itself can be redemptive. Fifth, nonviolent resistance avoids “external physical violence” and “internal violence of spirit” as well: “The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him” (King, Stride, 85). The resister should be motivated by love in the sense of the Greek word agape, which means “understanding,” or “redeeming good will for all men” (King, Stride, 86). The sixth principle is that the nonviolent resister must have a “deep faith in the future,” stemming from the conviction that “The universe is on the side of justice” (King, Stride, 88).

During the years after the bus boycott, King grew increasingly committed to nonviolence. An India trip in 1959 helped him connect more intimately with Gandhi’s legacy. King began to advocate nonviolence not just in a national sphere, but internationally as well: “the potential destructiveness of modern weapons” convinced King that “the choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence” (Papers 5:424).

After Black Power advocates such as Stokely Carmichael began to reject nonviolence, King lamented that some African Americans had lost hope, and reaffirmed his own commitment to nonviolence: “Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. This is what I have found in nonviolence” (King, Where, 63–64). He wrote in his 1967 book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?: “We maintained the hope while transforming the hate of traditional revolutions into positive nonviolent power. As long as the hope was fulfilled there was little questioning of nonviolence. But when the hopes were blasted, when people came to see that in spite of progress their conditions were still insufferable … despair began to set in” (King, Where, 45). Arguing that violent revolution was impractical in the context of a multiracial society, he concluded: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. The beauty of nonviolence is that in its own way and in its own time it seeks to break the chain reaction of evil” (King, Where, 62–63).

Footnotes

King, “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 13 April 1960, in Papers 5:419–425.

King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1958.

King, Where Do We Go from Here, 1967.

This entry is part of the following collection

Martin Luther King, Jr. – Political and Social Views
Martin Luther King, Jr. – Travels
Montgomery Bus Boycott

Nonviolence

Related Events

King begins freshman year at Morehouse
King hears Mordecai Johnson preach on Gandhi
Montgomery bus boycott begins
Bayard Rustin visits Montgomery
King discusses nonviolence with Bayard Rustin
Glenn Smiley interviews King in Montgomery
“Stride Toward Freedom” officially released; King signs copies at Harlem’s Empire Baptist Bookstore
The Kings and Lawrence Dunbar Reddick depart for India and Middle East
King’s “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” published in Christian Century

Nancy Bailey here presents a vision of schools that create a new realty and build a better society.

Public schools can bring us together. When children learn to care for each other with tolerance and understanding, they will grow to respect one other as adults. Honor the memory of George Floyd and black citizens who have unjustly died, by reconsidering our past efforts to integrate public schools. One place to start is by reading Gerald Grant’s book, Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There are No Bad Schools in Raleigh.

Learn how, once upon a time, Raleigh brought children together to learn, thereby reducing the gap between the rich and poor.

Vouchers and charters divide. Private schools and charter schools segregate. Remote learning, or learning at home or anyplace anytime, does little to bring students together.

This country needs strong public schools that unite students and families.

Who’s considering how to address the growing racial chasm that, along with the virus, could be America’s undoing? It has been 66 years since Brown v. Board of Education. How have public schools changed?

As we watch the unrest in Minneapolis and around the country, how, after all these years, can America bring students together? How, when Covid-19 separates us, can we find our way back to schools that are better than before? What will public schools be like when this disease is over?

Community organizer Jitu Brown and I will be in conversation on Wednesday June 3 at 7:30 pm EST.

Please sign up and join us.

Jitu Brown is the leader of Journey for Justice, a civil rights organization with chapters in 25 cities.

We will talk about the murder of George Floyd, about racism in America today, about the legacy of Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, about Jitu’s fight to prevent the closing of the Walter H. Dyett High School in Chicago, and much more.

The NYCLU just won a civil rights case in East Ramapo, New York, where all school board elections were at-large, guaranteeing that every member of the school board was elected by the tightly organized Orthodox Jewish community, whose children do not attend the public schools.

EAST RAMAPO – A federal court today ruled that the East Ramapo Central School District’s at-large method for school board elections denies Black and Latinx residents an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates under the federal Voting Rights Act. Judge Cathy Seibel of the Southern District of New York ordered the implementation of a ward system and enjoined the district from holding further elections until this system is in place.

The New York Civil Liberties Union and Latham & Watkins LLP brought the lawsuit against the district in November 2017 on behalf of the Spring Valley NAACP and seven Black and Latinx voters. At-large voting in East Ramapo, in which the entire district votes for all nine seats on the board, has enabled the district’s white majority to control the outcome of elections for every seat on the board for well over a decade. The white majority in East Ramapo lives in highly segregated neighborhoods and votes as a political bloc favoring the interests of private schools, which are almost exclusively white. Communities of color, on the other hand, tend to vote cohesively for candidates advocating for the interests of children attending East Ramapo’s public schools, whose student bodies are predominantly black and Latinx. East Ramapo’s minority voters, however, have not seen their candidates of choice win a contested seat since 2007. Plaintiffs have asked the court to institute a ward system for elections, in which voters will choose their representatives based on geographical districts at least some of which will contain a majority of black and Latinx residents.

“Today’s ruling at long last offers Black and Latinx residents of East Ramapo a fair shot at electing school board members who truly represent their interests,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “As this case showed, and the school board leadership was forced to admit at trial, the white private school community has hijacked the board and rigged its elections for years, while East Ramapo’s students of color have paid the price. Judge Seibel’s decision offers the district a path to represent the interests of the entire community fairly.”

“Our goal in this case was first and foremost to ensure the entire community of East Ramapo, not just a small group, received the full protection provided by Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” added Claudia Salomon, partner with Latham & Watkins LLP. “The ruling opens the door towards the establishment of a voting system that reflects the voices of all citizens of East Ramapo.”

More than 99 percent of East Ramapo Central School District’s 27,000 private school students are white, while 96 percent of the nearly 8,500 public school students are children of color. During the last decade, the East Ramapo Central School Board has cut more than 500 positions from the public schools, including 200 teachers, as well as all social workers, deans, and elementary school assistant principals. According to a December 2018 State Education Department Report, most of those positions have not been restored.

The Board’s cuts have led to a precipitous decline in school quality. In 2019, only 28 percent of students in grades 3-8 were proficient in English and only 24 percent are proficient in math, compared to 45 percent and 47 percent respectively of students statewide. Once regarded as a great school district, East Ramapo has consistently showed the lowest graduation rates and highest dropout rates in Rockland County in recent years, and underperformed against statewide schools. East Ramapo’s reputation is so damaged that in 2017, the adjacent Ramapo Central School District changed its name to the Suffern Central School District, distancing itself from its troubled neighbor.

“Judge Seibel’s decision represents a significant improvement for East Ramapo’s students and their families,” said Willie Trotman, President of the Spring Valley NAACP. “Although a majority of board members will still be elected by the district’s white voters, there will finally be an opportunity for people of color to elect candidates who will represent the needs of our communities of color for the first time in over a decade.”

Judge Seibel closed her opinion with a powerful statement that reflected the NAACP’s case: “This ruling may or may not change the way the schools in the District are run. But the purpose of Section 2 is not to produce any particular policy outcome. Rather, it is to ensure that every voter has equal access to the electoral process. For too long, black and Latino voters in the District have been frustrated in that most fundamental and precious endeavor. They, like their white neighbors, are entitled to have their voices heard.”

Attorneys on the case included Perry Grossman and Arthur Eisenberg of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Claudia Salomon, Andrew Clubok, Corey Calabrese and Russell Mangas of Latham & Watkins LLPP.

Civil rights groups are suing to block the use of charter schools to desegregate public schools in North Carolina.

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May 18, 2020

LAWSUIT CHALLENGES NORTH CAROLINA LAW ALLOWING BREAKAWAY, SEGREGATED CHARTER SCHOOLS

By Wendy Lecker

Parents and civil rights groups in North Carolina have sued the State challenging a law passed in 2018 authorizing predominately white, wealthy towns in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district to break away and form town-run, separate charter school districts that could exclude non-town residents. In the lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court on April 30, plaintiffs charge that the law violates North Carolina’s state constitutional guarantees of a uniform public school system and equal protection and will exacerbate persistent racial and socio-economic segregation in the county district.

The plaintiffs in the case, North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. State, are the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Branch of the NAACP and two parents with children in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. They are represented by Mark Dorosin, Elizabeth Haddix and Genevieve Bondaies Torres of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the law firm of Tin, Fulton, Walker and Owen, P.L.L.C.

History of School Segregation in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) has a long history of school segregation. The district was the subject of a major desegregation case in the 1960’s, Swann v. Charlotte–Mecklenburg Board of Education. In that case, in 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court placed CMS under federal supervision to ensure school desegregation. In 1999, white parents succeeded in ending the desegregation order, and CMS was removed from federal court oversight.

CMS then implemented a voluntary, “neighborhood” school assignment plan which, over time, resulted in school resegregation within the district. By 2010, CMS was almost as de facto segregated as it was before Swann was filed to end de jure segregation.

In 2016, the CMS school board developed a plan to increase diversity and reduce the number of schools with high concentrations of poor students. The plan met with strong opposition by elected officials and parents in the mostly white and affluent towns of Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews, and Mint Hill – all towns within the CMS district.

The Charter Breakaway Law

Desegregation opponents pushed the introduction of HB 514 in 2017 in the North Carolina legislature. The bill would allow the towns of Matthews and Mint Hill to establish municipal, and predominately white, charter schools with admissions preferences that would authorize by law the exclusion of non-resident, low-income students and students of color.

In an effort to appease legislators supporting the bill, the CMS board drastically scaled back its desegregation plan, limiting its effect to only 5% of the district’s students.

At the same time HB 514 was introduced, a State legislative committee studied the viability of breaking up large school districts in the state. That report concluded, in 2018, that breaking up large districts would exacerbate disparities in resources between high- and low-wealth schools and would provide no educational benefit.

In reaction, desegregation opponents dug in their heels and amended the municipal charter legislation to include the CMS towns of Cornelius and Huntersville. The bill passed in June 2018, and because it was considered local legislation, it did not require the governor’s signature under North Carolina law. In vetoing companion legislation to allow teachers in the new charter school district to participate in the state retirement and insurance programs, Governor Roy Cooper made clear that “municipal charter schools set a dangerous precedent that could lead to taxpayer funded resegregation.”

A companion funding bill was passed to facilitate the municipal charters under HB 514 by allowing towns to spend local property taxes to fund charter schools without requiring a voter referendum, as previously required by North Carolina law.

The plaintiffs in the current lawsuit charge that these new laws will drain resources from CMS, increase segregation in CMS, create segregated town charter schools, and deny low-income, non-white students equal access to higher-funded schools.

The Role of Charter Schools in School Segregation

This lawsuit is the latest in an emerging trend of litigation under education guarantees in state constitutions challenging states’ use of charter schools to foster segregation. In 2018, the Minnesota Supreme Court allowed a challenge to school segregation in Minneapolis-St. Paul to proceed to trial, noting that segregated schools cannot be “uniform” under that state’s constitution. Plaintiffs in that case charge that the formation of segregated charter schools in those cities and their exemption from desegregation plans play a major role in school segregation.

In February 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court granted Education Law Center’s petition to review the Commissioner of Education’s approval of the expansion of charter schools in Newark without evaluating the charters’ segregative impact on the district or their negative impact on the educational resources available to students in Newark district schools.

Given the growing body of research documenting the lasting negative effects of segregation on the academic and life outcomes of public school students and a history of lax or almost no regulation by states over their charter school programs, these lawsuits seek to hold states accountable to ensure charter schools authorized by their laws do not undermine or jeopardize students’ rights to education under state constitutions.

Wendy Lecker is a Senior Attorney at Education Law Center

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