Black students comprised 7.3 percent of Upper Dublin’s 4,232 students last year but received 45 percent of the suspensions.
Not one Black student was in the gifted program in the district’s four elementary schools and middle school.
The group wants the district to eliminate the lowest of its three tracks, which has a disproportionate number of students of color and where “unfortunately, not a lot of learning goes on.” Without that bottom track, students would be integrated into higher-level courses.
Unfortunately, there are those (including educators) who say, “Oh, they only suspend the bad kids, so if 45 percent of the suspensions are Black kids, it means they are bad and have bad parents.” Or: “If there are no Black kids in the district’s gifted programs, then they must not be gifted.” If this smells like systemic racism and the systematic marginalization of members of the community, you’re not mistaken. Just as horses are forced to wear blinders to focus them on what’s ahead. People choose to wear their privileged blinders to avoid acknowledging what privilege, bias and racism are and how they play out systemically. In comes the
Office for Civil Rights (OCR), whose job it is to “ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.” It is the
OCR’s job to investigate such allegations and provide guidelines to districts to ensure that they are being vigilant about students’ civil rights. In 2015, OCR Assistant Secretary
Catherine Lhamon visited our community for a roundtable. She reiterated the need for vigilance in the face of unequal treatment in public institutions receiving federal dollars through the U.S. Department of Education—particularly schools. Keep in mind, that warning was well before the arrival of a president-elect who seems to view the safeguarding of students’ civil rights as an unnecessary inconvenience. Some folks within the Trump administration have talked about
getting rid of OCR altogether. In the meantime, though, members of the OCR,
continue to do their jobs undeterred, focusing on what matters. I don’t know if Upper Dublin will change before OCR completes its investigation and recommendations. I am, however, glad that there is a group at the federal level charged with investigating such charges. States will need to bolster their efforts considering the disregard for rights of the human and civil kind. Community members, like those who filed the complaint, will need to be even more deliberate in their efforts to hold institutions accountable, especially if the new iteration of the OCR fails to honor its sacred charge under a Trump administration. Let's hope that there are policymakers, politicians and community members who will fight to maintain the integrity of this essential civil rights office. Pamoja Tutashinda.
Together we will win.
Sharif El-Mekki is the Founder and CEO of
the Center for Black Educator Development. The Center exists to ensure there will be equity in the recruiting, training, hiring, and retention of quality educators that reflect the cultural backgrounds and share common socio-political interests of the students they serve. The Center is developing a ...