Shutdown of Texas schools probe shows Trump administration pullback on civil rights

Apr 24, 2018 by

4.23.18 – “Shutdown of Bryan ISD’s Probe Shows Trump Administration Pullback on Civil Rights” – Texas Tribune


[COMMENTS FROM DONNA GARNER:  The Texas Tribune article (posted below) is simply dripping with emotional language meant to create a false narrative. I believe most people who have either taught or who have children in the public schools can “read between the lines.”  In doing so, they know that the family from which Trah’Vaeziah comes (mentioned in the article) is a troubled family; and as much as the schools would love to be able to make all things right in their students’ families, that standard cannot be reached.


The problem with this emotion-laden screed from the Texas Tribune is that it is meant to demonize Bryan ISD and everyone else who believes that we must have discipline in our schools to create a classroom atmosphere where all students are safe and can learn.  


Simply put, schools cannot “fix” families that are saturated with violence, ignorance, and hatred toward Whites. Obama fed this bias and this hostility throughout his eight years in office, and we are continuing to reap the whirlwind in our society.  


A larger percentage of students of color may get in trouble in school because so many of them have been reared in violent homes, but many White children are also experiencing the same type of dysfunctional home lives. It is students’ negative responses to rules, regulations, and discipline that get them in trouble.  It is wrong to blame the rules instead of blaming the lack of personal responsibility on the part of the students.


If students are encouraged to go through their school years seeing themselves as victims, then they never learn the importance of learning self-discipline and a sound work ethic. Without developing these all-important characteristics in school, their lives will continue the vicious cycle of risky behaviors and eventually the school-to-prison pipeline.


With consistent discipline and quality/traditional/time-tested curriculum, all students of any race/ethnicity/age will benefit. It is NOT a form of love to ignore bad behavior in students based upon the color of their skin. Teachers must be encouraged to develop fair and consistent policies to be used in their classrooms, and administrators must support them when asked to do so.  


Violence among students must be curtailed by proper discipline or else all lives will be put in danger. We are seeing this take place almost daily around our country. The federal government and its bureaucracy cannot solve these problems. Only common-sense decisions made by states and local districts for the good of all students can be effective.]


Before proceeding any further, please read these three excellent articles that lay out the dangerous Obama administration “disparate impact” policies that have led to violent events in Broward County/Nikolas Cruz and to the assault of a high school administrator:







4.23.18 – Texas Tribune


“Shutdown of Texas schools probe shows Trump administration pullback on civil rights”


The U.S. Department of Education was investigating why black students in Bryan, Texas, are almost four times as likely as white students to be suspended. Then Betsy DeVos took over.


By Annie Waldman, ProPublica


Excerpts from this article:


Beside a highway in Bryan, Texas, tucked between a motorcycle bar and the county jail, stands a low-slung, sprawling complex with tinted windows, sandstone walls and barbed wire lining parts of its roof. A roadside sign identifies it as the Brazos County Juvenile Justice Center.


One Friday afternoon last October, after an incident at nearby Arthur L. Davila Middle School, a police officer arrested 13-year-old Trah’Vaeziah Jackson and brought her to the juvenile detention facility. She cried as employees patted her down, cut off her hair extensions, and took her photo and fingerprints. She was served dinner — chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes and an apple in a styrofoam box with a carton of milk — but had no appetite.


In the shower room, guards applied thick anti-lice shampoo to Trah’Vaeziah’s hair. As she washed and combed it, clumps fell out. Afterwards, she reluctantly changed from her school clothes, a T-shirt and jeans, into the detention uniform, an orange shirt with matching shorts. Then she was locked in her cell, which contained a sink, a toilet, and, instead of a bed, a stuffed blue mat atop a brick base. High on the wall was a sliver of a window, but she wasn’t tall enough to see outside.


Only after 8 p.m. was she permitted a phone call. She called her mother and sobbed into the receiver. How could this accident have turned into a jail sentence?


Three decades ago, schools across the country began bolstering discipline to deter juvenile crime. Zero-tolerance policies were introduced, school law enforcement budgets swelled and suspensions, expulsions and student arrests multiplied.


These punishments, though, are applied unequally. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of students of color, like Trah’Vaeziah, bear the brunt. Black students are almost four times as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension and twice as likely to be arrested as their white peers, according to federal data. The pattern starts early: Even black preschool students are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended from school.


…Flooded with about 1,500 complaints related to racial discrimination in school discipline between 2011 and 2017, the Obama administration made the issue a priority. Relying on the doctrine of “disparate impact,” which emerged in the 1970s and holds that differential treatment by race amounts to discrimination whether or not there is overt or intentional bias, the Department of Education opened sweeping investigations into disciplinary disparities, from large school districts such as Minneapolis and Oakland to smaller ones like Bryan, Texas, where Trah’Vaeziah goes to school. It pushed investigators in its regional offices to broaden probes of individual incidents to look for systemic discrimination.


But under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration is taking a more hands-off approach. DeVos has indicated that she may soon reverse Obama-era guidelines on disparate impact and school discipline, and her hires have signaled this policy shift. Kenneth Marcus, tapped to lead the civil rights office, has argued that disparate impact analysis has significant legal limitations. And Hans Bader, an attorney adviser at the department, has accused the Obama administration of using disparate impact to create “racial quotas.” DeVos is also decentralizing decision-making, giving regional offices more control over investigations.


Quietly, the pullback is already happening. In a June 2017 internal memo leaked to ProPublica, one of DeVos’ top officials ordered investigators to limit proactive civil rights probes rather than expanding them to identify systemic patterns, as the Obama administration had often done in school discipline cases.


Since then, the Education Department has closed at least 65 school discipline investigations opened under Obama, including the Bryan probe, without any mandated reforms, according to an analysis of federal data received by ProPublica through a records request. In at least 50 cases, the department attributed the shutdowns to “moot” allegations or insufficient evidence or details. That was its explanation for letting Bryan off the hook, even though federal investigators there had uncovered numerous examples of black students being punished more harshly than whites for the same offenses.


While the Education Department didn’t respond to ProPublica’s questions about the Bryan case and disparities in school discipline, it has said that the goal of narrowing civil rights investigations is to speed them up.


“Justice delayed is justice denied,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said last month. “OCR seeks to investigate and resolve complaints in a more timely and efficient manner so that OCR enforcement of civil rights laws remains meaningful and relevant to students, advocates, and schools.”


Christie Whitbeck, Bryan’s superintendent of schools, said that the district “fully complied” with the civil rights investigation, which was “closed with no findings of discrimination on the district’s part.”


She said that the district plans to address the racial gap in school discipline in the next school year, and is hiring additional support staff. “As with school districts across the country, we face various challenges regarding student discipline,” Whitbeck said. “Going forward, we will continue to proactively monitor our discipline data, implement positive discipline interventions and character education programs.” 


<< snip >>



In 2014…With her four children, including Trah’Vaeziah, Yvola Polk moved from Midland, 400 miles away, into a trailer down the street from her sister, who had breast cancer.


…Trah’Vaeziah required a different kind of support. As a sixth-grader at Davila Middle School, a sandstone building that resembles the detention center five miles away, Trah’Vaeziah was repeatedly victimized, she and her mother said.


After each incident, Polk visited the school, leaving James with another adult. Every time, administrators assured her that the bullying would stop, but they didn’t follow through, she said. Finally, she gave them a tongue lashing, threatening to sit outside the school every day if there was no other way to assure her daughter’s safety. 


Later that day, school police officer Bryan Ruebush showed up at her house. Even though he hadn’t been present at her outburst, he wrote her a warning citation for trespassing on school property. According to Kelley McKethan, a spokeswoman for the Bryan Police Department, the school requested that Polk receive a warning for a “veiled threat she made against other students to school staff.”


The bullying subsided as Trah’Vaeziah reached seventh grade, in which she took a course called “Texas Success.” Her class competed with other classes to see which one could do the best job painting popsicle sticks and decorating its hallway door with them. Trah’Vaeziah and other students covered their sticks with glue from a hot-glue gun plugged into a classroom wall, she said.


With the teacher in the classroom, out of sight of the students in the hallway, horseplay ensued. As one of Trah’Vaeziah’s classmates headed to the bathroom, she recalled, she playfully gestured that she might touch him with the gluey stick. He dodged her. But on his way back, she again jokingly waved the stick toward him and accidentally grazed his arm, leaving him with a two-inch burn, she said. She immediately apologized — she had only meant to tease him. The school nurse bandaged his arm.


According to a school disciplinary report, Trah’Vaeziah “took a hot glue gun and burned another student severely on the arm with it.”


Trah’Vaeziah had rarely been in trouble at school, though the day before she had been isolated in a separate room from her classmates as an in-school suspension for mouthing off to a teacher in the cafeteria during breakfast. Now she was summoned to the assistant principal’s office, where she was met by Ruebush, the same school police officer who had cited her mother. Glancing anxiously at the clock, she wondered aloud whether she would miss the school bus home.


“You’re not going home,” she said Ruebush told her. “You’re going to juvy.”


…Perhaps recognizing that time was running short, federal investigators tried to negotiate a settlement with the school district. A February 2017 working draft of the proposed settlement, obtained by ProPublica through a records request, shows that the district would have agreed to take more than a dozen actions to reform its disciplinary system, including reviewing and revising its disciplinary policies, creating additional support services for punished students like mentoring, designating campus behavior coordinators, and educating parents on how to file complaints related to discipline and conducting annual school reviews.


If those reforms had been adopted, Trah’Vaeziah likely would not have been exiled to the detention center later that year. But the federal government and the district were unable to finalize the agreement.


Within months after Trump came into office, the tide changed. In June 2017, Candice Jackson, an attorney whom DeVos had named as interim assistant secretary for civil rights, drafted an internal memo that sharply reversed the Obama administration’s course. Federal investigators were no longer encouraged to look at complaints through a systemic lens.


Jackson…gave regional offices greater autonomy. Under the Obama administration, regional bureaus often needed clearance from Washington to settle or close a case, especially those relating to school discipline. Jackson allowed regional offices to determine how to settle cases.


Some regional offices have been able to resolve disparate impact cases in favor of student complainants. This past February, a complaint filed in 2013 alleging discriminatory school discipline practices in Durham, North Carolina, was settled, requiring the district to develop a new disciplinary approach, hire a discipline supervisor and bolster data collection.


The Texas office took a different tack. Following the Jackson memo, it backpedaled on the Bryan investigation. Page Baird, a senior equal opportunity specialist in the Texas office, wrote to the Bryan complainants in late July 2017, informing them that the investigation no longer encompassed all forms of school discipline.


“OCR has revised the scope of its investigation of this complaint,” she wrote, adding that the probe would now be limited to police ticketing in Bryan’s schools.


Since ticketing in Bryan had subsided, the decision to disregard other forms of discipline was tantamount to ending the investigation. Taylor D. August, the director of Texas’s regional civil rights office, and chief civil rights attorney Angela Hights made it official in September 2017, notifying the complainants that there was “insufficient evidence to support a conclusion of noncompliance.” 


As Ruebush and Trah’Vaeziah left the middle school and headed to the detention facility on that Friday afternoon last October, she asked if she could call her mother, who would be worried when she didn’t come home on a bus. He said no, and told her to turn off her cellphone and put it, along with her identification card and pencils, in a brown bag. Instead, the assistant principal called Polk and informed her that her daughter had been arrested and transferred to the detention center.


Kelley McKethan, a spokeswoman for the Bryan Police Department, said she could not discuss the case because it involved a juvenile. Generally, assaults in which someone “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” causes an injury are handled by police “and the school has no say in whether a student is arrested or not,” she said. “Remember there are multiple sides to a story as well as evidence that is taken into consideration.”


McKethan added that “our agency and our officers are held to an extremely high standard. Any indication of racial bias is handled immediately and is not tolerated at any level.”


The next day, Polk made her way to the detention facility. She sat before a thick slab of glass in the visiting room, which was cramped and smelled of disinfectant. When her daughter appeared on the other side, she noticed that Trah’Vaeziah’s gregarious buoyancy had deflated, her eyes were inflamed from hours of crying and her thick, foot-long braids were gone. The detention center did not respond to ProPublica’s questions.


Polk tried to comfort her. “I’m going to try to do everything I can to get you out,” she told her daughter through a small speaker embedded inside the glass pane.


The center is supposed to hold hearings within 48 hours. But because the center’s courtroom is closed on weekends, Trah’Vaeziah’s hearing took place on Monday, three days after her arrest. The proceedings went swiftly. Judge Misty Swan, who was presiding over the juvenile court that morning, released Trah’Vaeziah from the detention facility on condition that she do 20 hours of community service and write an apology letter. She also stipulated that Trah’Vaeziah would have to keep a clean record until the next court date and couldn’t access social media, cellphones or cash. Any violation of the agreement would result in further detention.


“They want to give this harsh punishment for something that we could’ve easily resolved at the schoolhouse,” said Polk. “They’re taking it too far for a kid.”


Trah’Vaeziah faced further consequences. Days after her release, at a due process hearing at the school, she was sentenced to five weeks in the district’s disciplinary alternative school. When her mother appealed, the stint was reduced to about two weeks.


…For Trah’Vaeziah, the disciplinary school felt as institutional as the juvenile detention facility, except that she was able to start and end her days at home. Each morning, she put on the alternative school’s uniform: a cotton polo shirt tucked into khaki pants with an elastic waist.


In January 2018, after a classmate pulled Trah’Vaeziah’s hair, provoking a scuffle, she was sent back to the disciplinary school, which she currently attends. The school emphasizes computer-based instruction, so Trah’Vaeziah and the other students receive minimal personal instruction from teachers. They mainly watch video lectures and complete lessons online.


Since entering the disciplinary school, Trah’Vaeziah’s grades have suffered. An official from the school informed Polk that if her daughter’s grades do not improve, she may have to repeat seventh grade


In late March, Polk filed complaints with the school district and with the civil rights office in Dallas. Soon afterwards, a truancy officer served Polk with a court summons. The officer informed her she was being cited for keeping her daughter out of school during the appeal of Trah’Vaeziah’s first disciplinary school referral —almost six months earlier

Source: Shutdown of Texas schools probe shows Trump administration pullback on civil rights | The Texas Tribune

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