Boston minority leaders, advocates and lawyers yesterday expressed concern about a proposal by the Trump administration’s education department to narrow the scope of civil rights investigations at schools.
“It is deeply concerning that the Department of Education is dismantling its advocacy work in the civil rights space,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. “Even in Boston, we have seen critical need for civil rights accountability with a toxic racial climate that prevailed at Boston Latin School until federal intervention remedied the problem.”
Under the proposal, the education department would focus on individual complaints rather than systemic problems, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press. It is a marked change from past policy under the Obama administration when the department would review whether a complaint was part of a larger problem at a school.
Other possible changes would allow schools a greater say in how the case is handled, rather than a student or parent who filed the complaint, and it would take away the appeals process. The document is only a draft, according to the AP. A final version is expected next year after input from staff.
The move follows the Trump administration’s efforts to streamline work and reduce federal budgets, including a $9 billion, or 13.5 percent, cut to the education budget.
Rick Hess, director of education policy at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, praised the Department of Education’s proposal, calling it an appropriate and sensible way to fix how the Obama administration used the department’s civil rights investigations to push policy.
“What the Department of Education is talking about is wholly sensible and is an appropriate and totally unsurprising correction to what the Obama administration did,” he said.
In Boston, however, advocates disagreed, noting the proposal comes on the heels of a federal probe by the Department of Justice in 2016 into complaints of racial discrimination at Boston Latin School. The DOJ issued a report recommending the school train staff and students, implement restorative justice practices and hire a diversity officer to oversee complaints.
“Boston Latin is a perfect example of a place where a federal agency’s ability to investigate systemic matters yielded results that can actually improve the school environment for all students,” said Matthew Cregor, the education project director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “By focusing solely on individual complaints, the Office of Civil Rights risks sticking its head in the sand and looking the other way from broader trends and acts of pervasive bias it is uniquely positioned to address.”
“We should be appalled at the retrenchment of civil rights protections across the nation and especially in our public schools,” agreed Kevin Peterson of the New Democracy Coalition. “While individual cases of discrimination in our schools must be addressed, we must be mindful that racism within our schools exists on a broad institutional level.”
Herald wire services contributed to this report.