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NAACP, LUCAC Say State Board of Education Violated Constitutional, Civil Rights

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By Imani Evans, Special to the NNPA from The Dallas Examiner –

Continuing a fight that began almost a year ago, a coalition of civil rights groups - that includes the Texas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Texas League of United Latin American Citizens - has publically released a complaint filed at the U.S. Department of Education asking the agency to review changes to the social studies curriculum standards pushed through by the Texas State Board of Education last spring as part of a broader review of state educational practices.

In a letter to the department's Civil Rights Division, the civil rights groups accused Texas of allowing a number of systemic practices that negatively impact the educational aspirations of minority students, and more specifically with violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Attached to the letter were approximately 150 pages of supporting documentation, including an outline of the NAACP's basic argument, as well as more analysis and statements of support by a number of prominent academicians including sociologist Joe R. Feagin, of Texas A&M University, and Dr. Anthony L. Brown, of the University of Texas. The complaint addresses the following issues:

• The State Board of Education curriculum changes

• Disparate discipline for minority students

• The use of accountability standards - i.e. standardized testing - to impose sanctions on schools with high proportions of minority students

• The underrepresentation of Blacks and Latinos in Gifted and Talented programs

After more than a year of frequently heated debates that drew nationwide attention - and scorn from more than a few educational experts - the Texas State Board of Education voted last May to approve new social studies standards for elementary, middle, and high school students. The process was dominated by a seven-member bloc of conservative Republican board members who, critics charged, were intent on refashioning the curriculum to suit their ideological preferences.

Their efforts resulted in controversial language that, for example, instructs teachers and textbooks to mention the "unintended consequences" of affirmative action and the Great Society, two programs deeply associated with the Democratic Party. Some critics, in particular the NAACP, charged the SBOE with inappropriately raising the actions of White decision-makers to a level of equal importance with those of civil rights protestors, and with elevating the role of Confederate figures such as Jefferson Davis while obscuring their ideological attachment to slavery.

"What we're asking them [the Department of Education] to do is to conduct a proactive review on a number of areas that we've complained about," said Texas NAACP president Gary L. Bledsoe. "We've complained about the offensive nature of the standards that were passed. The standards clearly require a student to (be taught) things that would be considered by them to be racially offensive - for example, if a student is being taught a standard that says there were positive aspects of slavery, this will go against everything that student might learn in their household, and be fundamentally untrue."

While mentioning the NAACP's partners, among them LULAC and the Texas Association of Black Personnel in Higher Education, Bledsoe also made a point of including two members of the Board of Education, Mavis Knight and Lawrence Allen, who fought hard against the changes.

Names of historic persons given in the standards fall into two categories, roughly: those who "must" be taught and those who "may" be taught. Students are required to learn about those in the "must" category only while those in the "may" category are given as mere suggestions. The NAACP/LULAC complaint points out that while Texas is 67 percent minority, only 17 percent of the persons listed in the "must" category are minorities.

"What the experts have said, that supports what we're saying, is that this marginalizes African Americans," said Bledsoe.

Dr. Emilio Zamora, a UTA professor specializing in Mexican American history, agrees.

"To state the obvious, such striking omissions and deletions suggest a pattern of neglect rather than happenstance or an occasional lapse of judgment," Zamora said in his statement of support.

Later in his statement Zamora adds: "Part of the explanation for the skewed representation rests in the continued predominance of White males as major figures in history books. This view of history, however, cannot be justified solely by the emphasis that we give to fields of history like government, industry, and wars… 76 percent male representation is inordinately high, especially if we consider that the study of history has expanded significantly since the early 1970s and provided greater depth and breadth from which to draw."

But the SBOE curriculum changes are only one part of a larger broadside against the Texas educational system. Also mentioned is the state's method of funding schools; unequal access to Gifted and Talented programs (according to the Texas Education Agency both Blacks and Latinos are underrepresented among gifted and talented students); underfunding of charter schools (Black students make up 33 percent of students in open-enrollment charter schools in Texas, which means any differential treatment of charters affects Blacks more dramatically); disparate discipline (Black students, while 14 percent of Texas public school students, are 33 percent of students who are suspended); and the problems posed by high-stakes testing (for instance, because of sanctions associated with low accountability rankings, schools actually find ways to remove low-performing minority students from the test rolls in order to affect the system).

Crucially, the complaint charges that these educational practices are not simply wrongheaded but discriminatory, and that the various issues raised in the complaint "were either the result of unnecessary policies that have a disparate or stigmatizing impact on African Americans and Latinos, or reflect disparate treatment or neglect." Although the complaint does not suggest a specific remedy, it is clearly an invitation for the federal government to consider taking legal action against the State of Texas.

"We were able to talk to and meet with people who are interested in what's going on in Texas and want to be kept informed," said Texas NAACP Legal Redress chair Robert Notzon, referring to a recent visit he and Bledsoe made to Washington D.C. "There's a good chance that we're going to get some hearing from people that are interested and can do something with this."

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