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Illinois school district to prioritize ‘black and brown students’ for in-person school reopening

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A Chicago-area public school district has announced it will prioritize “black and brown students” for in-person instruction when reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic in what appears to be a blatant violation of federal anti-discrimination statutes.

School District 65 plans to reopen Aug. 27 to all students using remote-only learning, according to a report in the Evanston Roundtable. If school officials decide that it is safe to do so, an “in-person option” will be offered beginning Sept. 29.

Under reopening guidelines, the in-person instruction will occur Tuesday through Friday, with the school deep-cleaned and disinfected to take place when doors shut.

The outlet adds:

Parents are required to choose by Aug. 5 whether their children would be in the remote learning path or in the in-person learning path (sometimes referred to as on-site learning). If more students chose in-person learning than the District can accommodate, the District plans to give a priority to certain groups of students.

The spaces available for in-person learning will be limited by the capacity of the buildings, the availability of teachers, and possibly the availability of bus transportation.

Because space is limited, the school district decided to prioritize who would be allowed into classrooms first.

According to Latarsha Green, the school’s deputy superintendent, priority will go to “students receiving free or reduced lunch, black and brown students, students who received an I [Incomplete] or less than 50% on their report cards, emerging bilinguals, and students with [Individualized Education Programs].

“There are also other categories in relation to students who are not performing according to reading or math grade-level expectations, and students with no comorbidity factors,” she said, according to the news outlet.

Ironically, Dr. Devon Horton, superintendent, claimed that the school cannot be making decisions based on political considerations while appearing to do just that.

“We are in a pandemic,” Horton said, according to the news outlet. “And we also know that everyone is affected by this differently.

“But there was a pandemic before this. That was inequity and racism, and classism, and all of these other things. And so I just want to make sure that as we’re making a decision – no decision is going to make everyone happy – we understand that,” he continued.

“We’re trying to support every single child to the best of our ability, and we can’t allow a political cash train to take over our decision-making regarding how we return our students to school.”

Children and school staff are supposedly protected against all forms of discrimination under federal statutes.

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights notes:

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs and activities operated by recipients of federal funds. It states: “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” In the education arena, Title VI’s protections apply to all public elementary and secondary schools and colleges and universities—public or private—that receive federal financial assistance.

The law’s protections “extend to all aspects of these institutions’ programs and activities,” the OCR site further states.

Further, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Educational Opportunities Section, “enforces several federal civil rights laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, language, sex, religion, and disability in schools and institutions of higher education.”

But Horton seemed undaunted by the statutes.

“I’ve heard for quite some time that this is a community that’s about equity for Black and Brown students, for special education students, for LGBTQ students. We know that this is important work, and we’re going to prioritize that,” he told the Evanston Roundtable.

Jon Dougherty

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