The reign of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education is already making public schools a lot more efficient, just as she promised. For one thing, the Department has scaled back on civil rights enforcement, because as everyone knows, discrimination in education is a thing of the past, and the only real problems involve mediocre teens not getting into college because of affirmative action. As an illustration of the sort of thing the Education Department won’t be bothering with anymore, see this excellent piece by Annie Waldman co-published Monday by ProPublica and Mother Jones, about disciplinary practices in the town of Bryan, Texas, where the local middle school looks remarkably like the local juvenile detention center, at least on the outside.
Bryan has had a history of disparities in who gets disciplined in its schools: Black students, who make up just 20 percent of the public school population, are four times as likely to be suspended from school as whites. And before Texas passed a 2013 law prohibiting school resource officers from giving tickets to kids in school for disciplinary infractions, black kids were also four times more likely to receive those tickets, too. Between 2011 and 2014, black kids accounted for 60 percent of all arrests in schools. (Those numbers are, sadly, only little higher than the national average — a 2013 Education Department report said black K-12 students were 3.8 times more likely to get out-of-school suspensions than their white peers).
Under the Obama administration, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) made a priority of investigating such systemic disparities in discipline as examples of “disparate impact” — the concept that broadly unequal discipline is a form of discrimination regardless of whether anyone in a school district overtly said “let’s be extra tough on minorities, OK?” Once the Trump crowd came in, investigations based on disparate impact were quietly dropped, because isn’t it racist to assume that white teachers and administrators are biased merely because more black kids get disciplined for the same misbehaviors as whites? Could be that black kids are just a lot more in need of punishment, after all! Besides, anything that happened under Obama was bad for America and had to be ended.
Consider OCR’s investigation into discipline in the Bryan schools, which began in 2010 when Marjorie Holmon’s son De’Angelo, then 12, was having trouble with another sixth-grader bullying him. When De’Angelo asked his teacher to intervene, the teacher said — prepare to be disgusted — “Here in middle school, we don’t tattle,” and did nothing to help. Having been informed he was on his own, De’Angelo put up with the bullying until the other boy punched him, and De’Angelo hit him back. Well, now! De’Angelo had run afoul of the district’s zero-tolerance discipline policy, so he and the other boy were both ticketed by the resource officer with a Class C misdemeanor assault, because obviously the Bullying victim who fights back is a thug:
To resolve the ticket, De’Angelo would have to appear in adult criminal court, which could result in fines of up to $500, community service hours and behavior-management courses.
When Holmon arrived at the courthouse and looked around, she recalled, “It was only black and Hispanic students. You only saw one or two Caucasian students. That shined a light for me.”
Holman took her complaint to a civil rights nonprofit called Texas Appleseed, as well as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and got help in filing a complaint with the federal Department of Education, which was run back then by sane people (or radicals, your call). The case got national attention, and the Texas Legislature was pressured into that 2013 law ending the ticketing of students by school resource officers. So instead of issuing tickets, Bryan schools started suspending kids more — usually black and Hispanic kids, who magically got harsher discipline than white kids. OCR expanded its investigation, and darned if more cases didn’t turn up:
For example, during the 2012-2013 school year […] received one day of in-school suspension for “failure to follow directives.” Earlier that year, a white student received just one hour of detention for the same offense.
Unfortunately, before the Department of Education and the school district could reach an agreement on reforms, Donald Trump was elected and Betsy DeVos’s new civil rights team decided to drop at least 65 investigations into disparate discipline nationwide, including the one in Bryan. That investigation was first scaled back to look only at the disparate rate of tickets given by resource officers, and since that practice was banned by the state legislature, there was no longer a problem to investigate, since the ticketing problem was now moot. Hooray! No more discrimination, and nothing had to actually change to make it disappear! And by golly, the school district sure sounds proud of all the nothing they had to do to bring about reform:
Christie Whitbeck, Bryan’s superintendent of schools, said that the district “fully complied” with the civil rights investigation, which was “closed with no findings of discrimination on the district’s part.”
Just like Donald Trump never discriminated against black renters, because his settlement with the Justice Department didn’t require him to admit wrongdoing. But even better, since the school district didn’t even have to settle — the investigation just went away. Truly a great day for equality, as long as you don’t count minor matters like the weekend that 13-year-old Trah’Vaeziah Jackson spent in juvenile detention after some horseplay with a popsicle stick — with hot glue on it, yes — led to another kid getting a burn on his arm. (To add insult, the school’s report claims — contrary to what Trah’Vaeziah’s mom said can be seen on the surveillance video — that she held the glue gun itself against the boy’s arm.) Obviously, that was no accident, so Trah’Vaeziah was charged with assault and taken straight to Juvie after school on a Friday and held until Monday, since no hearing could be held that afternoon. This whole thing is insane:
Now that she’s been labeled a troublemaker, Trah’Vaeziah’s gotten in more trouble, and has been transferred to a disciplinary school program where kids stare at computers and take tests online, and her grades, good before the incident, are going in the toilet. What would you expect from a criminal kid, after all? (Go read the whole piece — it’s infuriating.)
But don’t you go accusing the schools of discrimination, you. That investigation is closed, and so there was no discrimination at all, hooray! Anyone who says otherwise is probably a troublemaker who needs to go to detention. Now, maybe if we could just find a way to get all Bryan’s white kids into private schools.
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