How did the sudden surge of recent chaos in our classrooms come about in Madison? For the answer, you need to understand the role of the Federal government, and in particular its 1/8/14 “Dear Colleague” letter which was sent to all public school districts across the country which receive federal aid. In 2018 this amount was about 8% of an average school district’s budget. This letter was issued by the Office of Civil Rights, in joint collaboration with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. It is the end product of a 3/8/10 speech made by President Obama’s new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Duncan gave his speech in Selma AL on the 45th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” In this impassioned speech, Mr Duncan promised to “reinvigorate civil rights enforcement.”
This OCR letter, sent out nearly four years after Duncan’s speech, represents a remarkable new vision of how to promote civil rights in this country. OCR now simply looks at the disparate numbers of suspensions between white and black students, and uses that number as a basis for searching out potential civil rights violations within our public schools. Actual student behavior in school is now no longer the issue for our schools to address, it is just the color of the student’s skin. This manipulation of data is what OCR now uses to support a wholly unfounded accusation of possible “institutional racism” in a school district which must subsequently be investigated further. Thus, an entirely meritless fishing expedition can be initiated by the OCR which flies in the face of common sense. This fishing expedition, once started for a “lack of equity” in school suspension rates between black and white children, is extremely onerous upon any school system. Complying with OCR’s meritless intrusion buries our schools in a sea of paper and endless wasted staff hours. Welcome to the down-side of accepting federal or state money. One waits in vain, by the way, for disparity advocates to focus any of their attention on the wide disparity between girls and boys in school suspension rates, or the disparity between white and Asian student suspensions.
The consequence for our schools is that instead of OCR offering our schools the resources to explore and solve the root causes for disruptive individual students, OCR has now trapped MMSD into an ideologically-driven numbers game. Actually encouraging a school to help a disruptive “black” student is of no interest to the OCR. In fact, quite the contrary. This abusive equity game is put into action without even a single actual credible complaint of individual racial discrimination from within a school district. This harms all students, black or white, who want to learn, not to mention endangers the physical safety of both the students and the teachers. It also, again, harms disruptive students who are canaries in the coal mine asking for help and not receiving it from their school districts in any form of truly effective, and usually far less costly, educational alternatives.
It seems pointless to argue this matter with advocates of “equity justice” such as seat 5 candidate Ananda Mirilli, or seat 4 candidate Ali Mudrow. (I support David Blaska for seat 4.) Their minds are closed tight, at least for this election cycle. Ideology trumps common sense. Ananda Mirilli, current 2019 MMSD school board candidate, is in fact an Equity Coordinator for DPI, and has a vested financial interest in promoting and expanding this system of “justice.” Welcome to even more chaos in our classrooms if either or both of Mirilli or Muldrow win their 2019 bid for seats on the MMSD Board.
How the federal government black-mailed our school district into this position.
The history behind what is happening right now to school districts across the country, with Madison just one of many, is examined in rich detail by a 2018 paper by Heriot and Somin entitled “The Department of Education’s Obama-Era Initiative on Racial Disparities in School Discipline: Wrong for Students and Teachers, Wrong on the Law.” Click on the link and then click on “download this paper.” This paper is a must-read for anyone who seeks to understand both the legal issues of this subject in greater detail, as well as understand the practical result this policy has had upon school districts throughout the country.
In addition to offering useful historical and legal analysis, it offers a number of real-life stories regarding what the federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has foisted upon school districts. Once again, these schools districts are forced by OCR to comply with their directives due to the districts’ acceptance of federal education dollars.
So what do the consequences actually look like when it comes to districts applying “equity” to the issue of discipline in our schools?
Here is one example of this from Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, which did not even wait until receiving the 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter from the OCR in order to attempt to achieve “equity justice” in their district. This was several years before the chaos in our own Madison schools began to go down.
“(after a voluntary change in discipline policies at Lafayette Parish)…….Things did not go well. By January, the local school board was discussing purchasing a new alarm system and security cameras because there had been an increase in ‘discipline issues.’
A few months later, a teacher-intern felt so strongly about the disorder in the classroom that he appeared before the school board. His oral statement went like this:
‘…I had a recent meeting with my fellow interns at UL-Lafayette, and I can tell you the atmosphere in that [classroom] was disgust, absolute disgust with ….enforcement of discipline in school…
…I came from parents that were dirt poor. We had nothing. Growing up, I got my cousin’s clothes. I graduated from high school with honors.
I had a student the other day that I told, “Go home, do a project, get on the computer.” and he looked at me and he said, “Mr. Comeaux, I don’t even have a home to go to. My…mother and brother live in a shelter.” That student in my class, from my working with him, has an A average. So it can be done…
And it is just so disheartening—that when you ask a student to do something, they look at you and, with all due respect say, “Shut the [expletive] up.” Or “Go to hell, you [expletive].” Or “Who the [expletive] do you think you are?” And the administration does nothing.
I had a student threaten me physically in my classroom, to put his hands on me and, he would have been back in the classroom the very next morning had I not said, “I will get an attorney and I will get a restraining order against this student.” Otherwise the administration would have done nothing. And it’s sickening.
I have also come across warning notes from guidance counselors that have said, “Possible physical harm from this student against faculty members.” And these children are still in our school. I have students who have had 40, 50, 60 referrals, who sit next to students, fart in class, curse in class, talk about pornography, what they did to this girl, what they did to this boy. And they don’t do anything. And that’s why we are having the problems we’re having in education, not because the kids come from a poor background, because I made it. And that young man is making it. He has a 96 average in my class, And he lives in a shelter.
So unless Jesus Christ himself comes down before us…and tells me differently, poverty is not it. Or ineffective teaching is not it. It’s the discipline. It’s the disruptions. It’s having to stop your class and go write somebody up 40 and 50 times over a grading period.
I’ve had to leave my class, just today, eight times for three different students…[O]ne [was] dangling a student over the balcony at school by the shirt collar. And another teacher, witnessing it and saying, “Hey, stop that!’ And he turned and said “You back the [expletive] up. Who the [expletive] you think you are correcting me?” And that student is still at our school.
Now why can’t anybody on this board address this? Why?….’
Mr Comeaux’s statement was met with applause. But as a result of his statement, in less than 24 hours, he was fired by the Lafayette Parish School District…..” (end of quote)
Although Madison is not specifically mentioned in this paper, there are a number of other eye-opening examples of the results of the federal blackmail of local public school districts here, including Oklahoma City, Minneapolis-St Paul, etc. Of course, Madison was targeted by OCR as well. With virtually no public awareness in Madison at all, with the exception of one ignored report by Taylor Kilgore in the Simpson Street Free Press, Superintendent Cheatham, with MMSD Board support, agreed to accede to this federal blackmail with a 17 page “Resolution Agreement” signed on 10/21/16. Contents of this agreement can be found here.
Following are Heriot & Somin’s concluding thoughts in their paper, regarding our federal government’s current assault on our public schools, thanks to an out-of-control OCR. I share them completely:
“History is full of well-meaning but ultimately harmful policies imposed by bureaucracies that are far-removed from the individuals who must live under those policies. OCR’s school discipline policy is one in a long line.
Schools discipline must always be very fact specific. It is not an issue that lends itself well to bureaucratic control. Zero-tolerance rules have not worked out well. Neither has the Dear Colleague Letter. Rather than discourage race, color and national origin discrimination, it promotes it. At the same time, it promotes more disorderly classrooms.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the Dear Colleague Letter is its perverse effect on minority students, who are trying to learn, but are more likely than the average student to share a classroom with an unruly student.
Then there is the unruly student himself or herself. No one would claim that local schools have always made the right decisions about how to discipline a particular student. But tying the hands of teachers and administrators through bureaucratic controls has not been making things better. The public schools-and all schools-are a second chance for students who might not have the best chance to learn school discipline at home. The Dear Colleague Letter makes that less likely to happen.”