As a result, the Journey for Justice Alliance (a coalition of community and education justice organizations across 21 cities) and the national civil rights organization Advancement Project recently filed three complaints under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in use of federal funds, alleging discrimination in New Orleans, Chicago and Newark, New Jersey – each a city deeply impacted by school closures.
“Under the guise of education reform, corporate profiteers and politicians have zeroed in on Black communities, leaving behind devastation and destabilization,” said Debra Jones of the New Orleans organization Conscious Concerned Citizens Controlling Community Changes (C-6). “The approach of closing, turning around and privatizing schools has not only kept public education separate and unequal, but increasingly not public at all.”
Karran Harper Royal, an education advocate with the New Orleans organization Coalition for Community Schools, had this to say, “In the process of school closings and turnarounds, public education has been put under the control of a powerful few, while taking away community accountability and involvement.”
The complaints, which detail the racially discriminatory impact of school closures and privatization on children of color, were filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, as well as with the U.S. Department of Justice. For New Orleans, details in the complaint focus on the dramatic rate of school closures and the expansion of charter schools in New Orleans, the city’s Recovery School District has only five remaining traditional public schools and is on its way to being the nations’ first all-charter school district.
In fact, the complaint details that while White students in Orleans Parish comprise only 10 percent of the city’s public school students, they make up 40 percent of the student population at high-performing schools. Meanwhile, African-American students, who comprise 82 percent of the public school student population make up only 30 to 47 percent of the student population at high-performing schools. This occurs because with little to no oversight from the state, each individual charter school exercises their own admissions, discipline, and expulsion policies that do more to harm Black to students.
“So-called school ‘reformers’ have consistently shown that they are more willing to subject children of color to unproven education practices,” said Jitu Brown, National Coordinator for the Journey for Justice Alliance. “They are less concerned with providing experienced teachers and small class sizes, and less willing to accept that our communities know what is best for our children. Young people should not be treated as collateral damage in these failed and discriminatory educational experiments.”
“In each of the cities where we filed Title VI complaints, African-American children are being uprooted, shuffled around and ultimately sent to schools that are no better than the one that closed,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “Districts are shirking their responsibility to educate our children and instead are giving multi-million dollar contracts to companies to do the job. In each city, African-American students’ hopes of equal educational opportunities are being dashed.”
Journey for Justice also released a report on the real-life impacts of school closings and privatization. Entitled Death by a Thousand Cuts: Racism, School Closures, and Public School Sabotage, the report provides a searing look at the national pattern of school districts setting community schools up to fail through policies including high stakes testing-based accountability systems, and enrollment policies that concentrate the most disadvantaged students in a few schools without providing the needed resources. Once these schools consequently suffer under-enrollment and financial shortfalls, public officials then justify closing them.
As the report details, school closures not only hurt educational outcomes; they have far-reaching negative consequences for children of color and their communities. In New Orleans the closure or charter takeover of the Recovery School District’s five remaining traditional public schools (which is slated for the 2014-2015 school year) is set to impact 1,000 Black students, but only five White students, according to the complaint.
“We cannot tolerate anyone telling us that these policies are for our own good,” said Sharon Smith, president and CEO of the Newark, New Jersey organization Parents Unified for Local School Education (PULSE). “Research shows that school closures, privatization and charter school expansion have not produced higher-quality education for young people. Our lived experience shows that these policies cause emotional harm to our youth and devastate our neighborhoods.”
“These educational experiments target communities of color as solutions to a problem that Brown v. Board of Education should have solved – the need for access to a fair, quality education,” said J. Brian Malone, executive director of Chicago’s Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. “Instead, education ‘reformers’ have created a system of failed education policies that continues to burden youth of color.”
In New Orleans, complainants are seeking the following remedies:
1. A halt to the closures of Benjamin Banneker ES, A.P. Tureaud ES, Walter Cohen HS, George W. Carver HS and Sarah T. Reed HS and provide students with additional supports and resources to meet their academic, social, and emotional needs;
2. A moratorium on school closings, conversions to charters, and renewals in New Orleans;
3. A measure forcing the state to ensure neighborhood public schools are evenly-distributed across the City of New Orleans;
4. Require that the Louisiana Department of Education fully fund New Orleans public schools so that all students will succeed academically;
5. Require the State of Louisiana, through LDOE, OPSB and RSD, to fully implement the Sustainable Schools Model in New Orleans, including conducting a needs assessment and creating a collaborative process that engages parents, students, educators and other communities to create locally designed school improvement
For the full Journey for Justice report, Death by a Thousand Cuts, visit http://www.j4jalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/J4JReport-final_05_12_14.pdf.
To view the Title VI complaints go to http://www.advancementproject.org/pages/journey-for-justice-and-advancement-project-files-title-vi-complaints-again.