Today we commemorate the 68th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, the unanimous Supreme Court ruling that overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine in America’s public schools. Nearly 70 years after the court declared racially segregated schools unequal and unconstitutional, Brown stands as both a transformative moment in our country, and as a promise yet unfulfilled.
For decades, the Civil Rights Division has worked to implement the mandates and the ideals of Brown vs. Board of Education for students in public schools across the country. The Educational Opportunities Section (EOS) enforces Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, and Title II of the American with Disabilities Act, among other civil rights laws. Nearly 70 years after Brown, the division still represents the United States in nearly 140 school desegregation cases, and continues to fight for equal access for students across the nation. Through these cases, the division works to desegregate schools and classrooms; promote recruitment of diverse faculty; expand access for Black students to gifted, Advanced Placement, and STEM classes; and address discriminatory discipline and hostile climates. In these cases, and in many other facets of our work, we seek to build on Brown’s enduring legacy to pursue greater equity and justice for all students.
- The Civil Rights Division investigated the failures of the Davis School District in Utah to protect Black and Asian American students from severe racial harassment against Black and Asian-American students. As part of a settlement with the division, the district agreed to implement new policies and procedures to ensure students have a safe learning environment.
- In December, we reached a settlement with the Frederick County Public Schools District in Maryland to address the discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities.
- The department has recently entered into settlements with school districts in Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and South Carolina to ensure adequate instruction and resources for English language learners and effective communication with their limited English proficient parents in languages they can understand. The settlement agreements require the districts to take various actions consistent with the civil rights of students and parents, including increasing language instruction and supports for English learners and providing information to their parents in accessible formats (including via interpretation and/or translation, as necessary).
- And last September, the division announced a settlement with San José State University in California to address allegations that the university failed to respond adequately to reports of sexual harassment (including sexual assault) by an athletic trainer. The department also found that the university retaliated against two employees. Under the settlement, the university will provide $1.6 million to survivors and enact major reforms to its Title IX process.
These examples show how much work there is left to do to advance Brown’s legacy. The urgency of this work is undeniable when we see students of color facing unfair school discipline and arrest; when students with disabilities face unnecessary segregation; when students are punished for not following dress and grooming codes that are rooted in race and gender stereotypes; and when students are forced to learn in hostile environments where they are harassed, sometimes even by school officials, for being who they are. Discriminatory discipline and unchecked harassment, like overt racial segregation can, in Brown’s words, affect students’ “hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”
As Assistant Attorney General Clarke told the students at Eliot-Hine Middle School in Washington, D.C. at an event in commemoration of Brown’s anniversary, “Our story in America is one of progress, but one in which every day we continue to see reminders that we’ve got a lot of work to do.” She added, “We have to always stand up and fight back whenever we see injustice because it has broad impact beyond the one place or one community or one person impacted.”
In the Civil Rights Division, we recognize the progress we have made since Brown. We also acknowledge that the struggle continues. We are working each day to make Brown real, for all students.