The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition
Long Road to Justice: The Civil Rights Division at 50

Promote and Maintain Integrated, High Quality Schools

The Supreme Court's opinion in the Seattle and Louisville cases, which limits the discretion of local school boards to take the race of students into account in seeking to voluntarily achieve racially and ethnically diverse learning environments for students, makes the work of the Civil Rights Division's Educational Opportunities (EO) Section more crucial than ever before. At the same time, those decisions mean the EO Section must reorder its priorities in a few fundamental ways.

First, the United States remains a party in many desegregation cases where there continue to be outstanding orders requiring school districts to eliminate the vestiges of prior discrimination. Currently the Section appears to be seeking to have as many of those districts as possible be declared unitary. Now that it is clear that once declared unitary, as was the Louisville school district, a school district may be forced to dismantle student assignment zones and other policies used to foster integration, the Department needs to stop districts from being declared unitary until it is clear that even post-unitary status, the district will remain integrated. The presence of an ongoing desegregation decree gives a school district more tools at its disposal to eliminate the effects of segregation. The Department needs to evaluate how to use the decrees it has obtained to maintain integrated school systems.

Second, the Department now must devote significant resources to determining how to use its enforcement powers under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination by entities receiving federal funds. Most Local Education Authorities (LEAs) receive some form of federal funding. While Title VI complaints go to the Department of Education for investigation in the first instance, the EO Section has a significant role to play in advising the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights on how to interpret and enforce Title VI, and the Department of Justice is the entity that should be litigating those Title VI cases where the Department of Education finds that a recipient of federal financial assistance has been operating in a manner that has a disparate impact on minority students. There are numerous policies by school boards that are ripe for investigation under the disparate impact regulations of Title VI, such as zero tolerance disciplinary policies, practices resulting in the overrepresentation and mistaken categorization of minority students as having learning disabilities, and under-representation in academically gifted programs. The EO Section can contribute significantly to ensuring that the government vigorously enforces Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Finally, the Educational Opportunities Section has, in the past, initiated a number of creative programs to foster integrated schools at the K-12 level - such as those investigating how desegregated housing patterns contribute to integrated educational opportunities - by working carefully with all stakeholders, LEAs, parents, teachers and local governments, The Section must continue to undertake these and other creative initiatives in order to assist those school districts that are willing to create diverse learning environments but are daunted by the Supreme Court's limits on their discretion. The Section is, in many ways, the last hope for parents and children who want to see fulfillment of our nation's commitment to equal educational opportunities for all. The Section must re-order its priorities to achieve this mission.

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