School violence and a skewed response

The Department of Education is concerned about the long standing disparity in academic achievement between certain minorities (blacks and hispanics) and whites. Recently they’ve have also expressed concerns about the disparity in disciplinary actions taken with certain minorities (again, blacks and hispanics). Somehow labeling this as a “civil rights” issue, their concern is that these minorities are over-represented when it comes to school discipline. One thing is perfectly clear – they are only concerned about certain minorities. (story here)

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has just announced a new push to enforce civil rights laws to combat discrimination in our schools. In the last decade, he said, his department’s Office for Civil Rights “has not been as vigilant as it should have been . . . But that is about to change.” His remarks were made March 8 in a speech at the Edmund Pettus Bridge commemorating the 45th anniversary of the civil rights march on Selma, Alabama, that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is also eager to break with the allegedly lax civil rights policies of the Bush administration. Tom Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, has appointed a new education section chief, Anurima Bhargava, who comes to the department directly from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), where she had been director of education practice since 2006. “I am excited she will be joining us as we continue our efforts to restore and transform the civil rights division,” Perez declared.

Duncan wants to eliminate racial disparities in education in general, including in student discipline in particular. Undoubtedly, Perez does as well. But what will they do in response to a formal complaint filed by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) in the wake of serious black-on-Asian violence at South Philadelphia High School (SPHS)? AALDEF has charged that the district acted with “deliberate indifference” to the harassment of Asian students and with “intentional disregard” of their welfare.

Well, aren’t Asians minorities too? Yes, but they aren’t a protected minority – probably because they overachieve academically and therefore don’t merit protected status.

SPHS houses roughly 1,000 students, 70 percent of whom are black, 18 percent Asian, 6 percent Hispanic, and 5 percent white. The Asians are by no means a homogenous group and speak a variety of languages, the most common of which are Chinese dialects, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Cambodian; 12 percent of these Asian students are classified English Language Learners.

According to Asian advocates, the whole Philadelphia district has been plagued by harassment and violence towards Asian students for many years. At SPHS, the assaults have occurred in the cafeteria line, in bathrooms, in stairwells, on school buses, and elsewhere. The incidents ran the gamut from verbal abuse, physical intimidation, blocking doorways, cutting in line ahead of Asian students in the cafeteria, use of anti-Asian racial epithets, and more serious physical abuse including shoving, kicking, and punching—sometimes at the hands of more than one assailant. Advocates have accused school officials, including school Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and Principal LaGreta Brown (both black) of indifference to the plight of Asian students in their charge.

So where will the Department of Education come in on this issue when it appears that the perpetrators of school violence are actually a majority? Where the victims are not part of the protected minority? If I had to bet on this, I would say that the Asian students are screwed.

Read the whole thing…


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