A city councilwoman is asking the District of Columbia’s attorney general to determine the legality of the city school district’s recently announced three-year, $20 million initiative focused on males of color.
In a Feb. 9 letter to Attorney General Karl Racine, Councilwoman Mary Cheh said that while she applauded District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s efforts to address issues related to black and Latino boys, she was concerned that an all-boys high school, which is part of the group of initiatives announced late last month, may not conform with the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, and may conflict with Title IX, the federal law that bars discrimination on the basis of sex in education and in federally funded programs and activities. She also said a single-gender high school may conflict with the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Act.
Cheh said she wanted equal support for both boys and girls and was seeking a determination about the legality of the program before funds are expended on the initiative.
From the letter:
“Our female minority students face problems just as serious and debilitating as their male counterparts. Although cited statistics for boys are troubling, the same statistics for minority girls are troubling, too. Just because minority girls may perform some percentage points better than boys does not mean we should see these scores as acceptable. They are not. The District needs a strong program to empower our young women as well as our young men. Not only is the failure to offer a similar program to girls potentially illegal, it is wrong because young girls will realize how little we value them.”
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and Henderson announced the “Empowering Males of Color” initiative on Jan. 21. The program includes efforts to recruit 500 mentors for boys of color to help boost the percentage of black and Latino boys who read at grade level in the 4th grade by 50 percent; targeted aid to schools to support academic development, family engagement and social-emotional supports; and a new all-boys college preparatory high school, set to open in 2016, through a partnership with the Chicago-based Urban Prep Academy.
The District’s program is aligned with President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative and a Council of the Great City Schools’ pledge, which are both aimed at improving academic outcomes and employment opportunities for black and Latino males. Many of the districts and cities that are aligned to the programs have been rolling out initiatives focused on providing both in-school and out -of-school support to help minority students succeed in K-12, successfully complete college, and gain employment.
The District of Columbia’s program targeting young men of color is not the first to run into questions. The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas last month asked the Lawrence school district to suspend a high school mentoring program for boys of color because the program, the group argued, violates Title IX.
The mentoring program at Free State High School pairs 15 boys with male mentors from the community, with the goal of improving the school’s graduation rate for boys, which trails the rate for girls.
A spokeswoman for Chancellor Henderson said she had no comment on Cheh’s request for a legal opinion on the Empowering Males of Color initiative.
But Henderson retweeted an opinion piece written by Robert C. Bobb, a former president of the D.C. State Board of Education, and published on Feb. 6 in The Washington Post, which defended the program.
Noting the statistics for black and Latino male students in the district, (nearly 50 percent of black and Latino students read below grade level by 4th grade and 57 percent of Hispanic and 48 percent of black boys graduate in four years, according to District of Columbia Public Schools) Bobb wrote that the initiative was a step in the right direction.
From Bobb’s piece:
“The money and time are insufficient for the task. But it’s a start.
No one should expect a miracle. It isn’t as if Henderson announced the construction of a building, where there is a groundbreaking and a certain date when the doors of a new facility will open. What she has proposed involves altering the trajectory of human lives. That is a heavy lift.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.