15 Months Later: No Answers From Office of Civil Rights On ACLU Complaint About Segregation In Delaware Schools

In December of 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware and the Delaware Community Legal Aid filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the United States Department of Education.  The complaint was against the State of Delaware and the Red Clay Consolidated School District.  The allegations in the complaint were around how the state and Red Clay, as charter school authorizers, allowed charters to develop segregation and discriminatory practices in their enrollment.  Almost three months later, after the ACLU gathered information from people around the state, they submitted the information to the Office of Civil Rights in their regional Philadelphia office.  Since then, their has been no official resolution on the matter.

Back in February, the Racial Justice Program of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation based out of New York reached out to the Office of Civil Rights for a status update.  This is what they received back:

OCRLetter21916

None of the charter schools listed in the complaint officially changed any of their admissions policies as a result of this.  The Delaware Enrollment Preferences Task Force submitted their final report to the General Assembly shortly before the holidays last year, and not one piece of legislation has come out to address the issues.  There is still a great amount of inequity in some Delaware charters compared to their neighboring school districts.  I find it ironic both the Delaware DOE and the US DOE are so concerned about civil rights groups when it comes to high-stakes testing and how opt out could bring us back to “dark days” as some have put it.  But when it comes to visible and transparent discrimination and segregation, the one office in the federal Government who could actually do something about it is sitting on it.

In looking at the OCR website at ed.gov there have been OCR complaints filed and resolved after the Delaware ACLU and Delaware Community Legal Aid filed their complaint.  One was filed in September of 2015 and received a resolution in February of this year.  The only cases showing from Delaware involved ones with Colonial School District, PolyTech and Family Foundations Academy from 2014.  The longstanding Christina OCR resolution doesn’t show on the list because it only counts resolutions from 2013 and up.

I don’t see civil rights groups in Wilmington screaming about this.  Why is that?  When it comes to education and segregation, this is a shining example.  Why are they so quiet on this issue but will say they know Smarter Balanced is a bad test but it is the only measurement for minority students to know if they are succeeding or not compared to their peers?  I have to wonder how much influence the Delaware DOE and Governor Markell may have in making this drag out.  Or possibly even higher up than them.  Are any of our Delaware congressmen following up on this?  John Carney?  Tom Carper?  Chris Coons?  Or how about even Delaware’s own Vice-President Joe Biden?  I’m certain this isn’t a resolution the Delaware Charter Schools Network wants to come out any time soon.

We need to rally civil rights groups on issues like this and not ones about opposition of parent opt out of high-stakes tests.  I am calling on ALL Civil Rights groups to hammer the Office of Civil Rights office in Philadelphia, phone number (215) 656-8541, to make sure they are not stalling on this very important case.

Thank you to Richard Morse, Esq. for the Delaware ACLU in responding to my request to his office for information and allowing me to publish the response from the Office of Civil Rights.

Advertisements

Message From The DE ACLU In Wake Of Wilmington City Council Vote To Ban New Charter Schools

The Delaware American Civil Liberties Union has put out a message to all citizens of Delaware following the vote by the Wilmington City Council to ban all new charter schools in the City of Wilmington last Thursday night.  Nancy Willing, of Delaware Way, has written the following:

Any parent in the state of Delaware who has experienced problems getting their child into a charter school or keeping a child in a charter school should contact the ACLU of Delaware! http://www.aclu-de.org/. The ACLU’s resegregation lawsuit is focusing on the actionable classes of either special needs or minority children but I would think they’d be interested in the testimony of any parent whose child was denied admission to a public charter school.

Sad to say, I know far too many people who should probably check this out if they haven’t already…

Delaware DOE & Red Clay Respond To ACLU Complaint, What Happens Next, & My Demand From Delaware

In an article by the Hockessin Community News, both the Delaware Department of Education and the Red Clay Consolidated School District responded to the announcement yesterday of a complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union and Community Legal Aid, Inc. submitted to the Office of Civil Rights regarding charter school discrimination against minorities, low-income students and special needs children.

The Delaware DOE’s response:

“We are committed to providing access to great educational opportunities for every Delaware student, from birth through higher education, and we are proud of the academic progress our low-income students and children of color have made in recent years, including by closing the gap between minority and non-minority students,” said Alison May, press spokesperson for the Delaware DOE.

May said that the state’s efforts to expand access has doubled the number of low-income children in “high-quality” early childhood programs, and has helped 100 percent of the state’s college-ready students apply to college regardless of their income.

“We will continue to expand and accelerate our efforts to make great education a reality for all of our students,” she said.

Red Clay’s response:

Red Clay Public Information Officer Pati Nash said that the district is now and always has been committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion in their schools.

“We will continue to be guided by those principles,” Nash said. “And continue providing an excellent education to our students and the community we serve.”

Newcastle Councilman of the 10th District Jea Street said:

“This is not only a New Castle County problem – this is statewide,” Street said, now in his 41st year as a student advocate. He later added, “I support this and I appreciate this (complaint).”

The article went on to explain what will happen next. The complaint has been issued to the United States Office of Civil Rights and the US Department of Education. This is not something that will be handled out of the regional Office of Civil Rights out of Philadelphia. An investigation will be done to see if the complaint has merit, which the legal director of the Delaware ACLU, Richard Morse, believes will happen.

A declaration on the complaint was submitted by Eve Buckley. Buckley resides in Newark, DE and is a history professor at University of Delaware. In the declaration Buckley compared Newark Charter School’s enrollment preference to those of private schools, which are not beholden to many laws due to private funding and the fact they receive no state or federal funds for their operations. Charter schools do receive federal and state funds, so any laws applicable to the regular public school districts apply to charter schools as well.

On Facebook and other forums, many citizens of Delaware have gone back and forth on the issue. Some feel it is something that should have happened years ago while others want the status quo. Many others blame the whole situation with bussing around Wilmington as the chief contributor of the problem. Unfortunately, some comments have been racist and discriminatory.

I find the Delaware DOE’s response to be typical, but very weak. To cite examples of pre-school children and juniors and seniors in high school on how they promote equity is ignoring the main victims of this complaint, all the students in-between. Once again, the Delaware DOE takes an opportunity to proudly announce how the gap is being reduced between these sub-groups and “regular” students based on standardized testing scores. The Delaware DOE, in my opinion, has been blissfully ignorant of everything else happening in schools unless it is related to education reform policies. They have allowed this to happen by essentially doing nothing about it. There are many other factors contributing to this, but the DOE could have done something about it as the state agency for education.

What I find very surprising is how this is just a charter school issue. There are other schools that have some of these same practices. Polytech, in Kent County, is just one example. Some online have said the magnet schools and vocational schools in Delaware have used enrollment preference in their applications as well. Yes, the charters are the primary target in this complaint, but in my opinion, ANY school that uses any type of discriminatory practices to weed out any sub-group in the surrounding community is just as guilty.

I take grave offense to the treatment of the special needs children in this state. If they aren’t denied entrance to a charter school, many are denied the special education services that should be given to them under Federal law. I have brought up this topic at just about every IEP Task Force meeting to be a topic in the report to Governor Markell. I met with Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the director of the Exceptional Children’s Resources Group at the Delaware DOE last summer, and her response to why the Delaware DOE does not audit schools for denied IEPs is because the “due process system is more than fair.”

It wasn’t until last night at the IEP Task Force that a member actually brought it up. Bill Doolittle, representing the Governor’s Advisory Council of Exceptional Citizens, stated that if the task force is reviewing the entire IEP process, and evaluations are an integral part of the discovery phase of an IEP request, then an IEP denial should absolutely be included in the conversation. It is too late for this to go into Governor Markell’s report due January 1st, but if the IEP Task Force continues past January (which Lieutenant Governor/soon to be Attorney General Matt Denn said is “highly” likely), it may come up as a topic. If nothing is done about IEP denials being audited in the state of Delaware very soon, I will be submitting my own complaint to both the US Office of Civil Rights as well as the US Department of Education. Enough is enough. Far too many students and their families have suffered as a result of an IEP denial. Far too many students who did not receive services at a young age when they should have end up spending time in residential treatment centers because of this practice. How many tears have to be shed? How many families have to be torn apart before this DOE acts? If they don’t act, I will.

Read more: http://www.hockessincommunitynews.com/article/20141203/News/141209902#ixzz3Kz1CeiWP

ACLU Complaint Against Delaware Charters, The State, and Red Clay

The American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware and Community Legal Aid, Inc. announced at a press conference today that they have filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights in regards to the re-segregation of Delaware schools going back to the Charter School Law of 1995.  The complaint, embedded below, is going after the state and Red Clay over discrimination against minorities, as well as low-income and disabled students.

Many in the state have suspected something like this was coming, but I did not think the scope would be this big.  The ramifications of just an announcement of this proportion are very huge for education in Delaware.

CONTACT: Kathleen MacRae, ACLU-DE Executive Director—302.654.5326 x102, kmacrae@aclu-de.org ; Brian Hartman, CLASI Disabilities Law Program Project Director—302.575.0660 x220; bhartman@declasi.org

ACLU and CLASI File Complaint with Office of Civil Rights

CONTACT: Kathleen MacRae, ACLU-DE Executive Director—302.654.5326 x102, kmacrae@aclu-de.org ; Brian Hartman, CLASI Disabilities Law Program Project Director—302.575.0660 x220; bhartman@declasi.org

Wilmington, DE (December 3, 2014) — The American Civil Liberties Union and Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. filed a complaint today with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education arguing that Delaware’s charter school law and policies have a discriminatory impact on students of color and students with disabilities and have significantly contributed to the resegregation of Delaware’s public schools. Specifically, the complaint claims that the State of Delaware through the Department of Education and the Red Clay Consolidated School District, the two entities that authorize public charter schools in the state, are in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Every student in the State of Delaware deserves equal access to a high-quality education,” said Kathleen MacRae, executive director of the ACLU of Delaware. “But what has evolved since the passage of the Charter School Act of 1995 is state-sanctioned preferential treatment for families who are able to navigate the special requirements of charter school admissions.

“These include such things as high examination scores; essays written by parents to explain why a school is a good choice for their child; access to gifted and talented elementary and middle school programs that help increase academic performance; annual activities fees; mandatory parent involvement, sometimes in fundraising; and mandatory high-cost uniform purchases. These barriers prevent students from low-income African American and Hispanic families from having the same access to high quality charter schools that middle and upper class families have.

“We hope that the Office of Civil Rights recognizes that any system of selection that has the effect of almost completely excluding children with disabilities from the ‘high-achieving’ charter schools is deeply disturbing and must constitute illegal discrimination,” says Dan Atkins, Legal Advocacy Director of the Disabilities Law Program of Community Legal Aid Society, Inc.

It’s terribly unfair to the children with disabilities who should have earned their place in those schools, and it sends a harmful and hurtful message, really to everyone, to continue to shut those students out. We look forward to working with the federal government, the State of Delaware, and Red Clay Consolidated School District to develop criteria that integrate more students with disabilities. This is consistent with the State and Federal Government’s mission to provide equal educational opportunities to all children—regardless of race, income, and disability.”

Racially Identifiable Schools

The complaint documents that over three-quarters of charter schools operating in Delaware are racially identifiable. High performing charter schools are almost entirely racially identifiable as White. Low income students and students with disabilities are disproportionately relegated to failing charter schools and charter schools that are racially identifiable as African American or Hispanic, none of which are high performing.

Another result of the proliferation of charter schools is increased segregation in traditional public schools located in districts where charter schools operate. In addition, when the impact of the Neighborhood Schools Act of 2000 is considered, inner city school children have no good alternatives—they may attend a hyper-segregated traditional public school or attend a hyper-segregated charter school. When charter schools admit a disproportionate number of higher-income White students with no disabilities, the traditional public schools are left with the difficult and costly task of educating the students most challenged by poverty or special education needs.

Recommendations

In order to remedy the current situation regarding Delaware public schools, the ACLU and CLASI urge:

  • A moratorium on the authorization and opening of new charter schools until an effective desegregation plan has been implemented;
  • Utilization of a random opt-out lottery for charter school admissions;
  • Assurance that the cost of attending a public charter school is free and that parents are not required or pressured to purchase uniforms or raise money for the school;
  • Capping class size in traditional public schools at the same level as charter schools and ensuring that total funding for traditional public schools is equal to that of charter schools;
  • Providing additional funding to schools with a disproportionately high number of students of color, students with special needs and low-income students;
  • A plan to ensure that students with disabilities are recruited and reasonably accommodated in all charter schools.