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CCE Commemorates 60/50 and Discusses Educational Opportunity in DC

CCE Board of Directors and special guests gathered on June 5, 2014, to listen to a panel of experts share historical perspectives on the 60th and 50th anniversaries of Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They also heard panelists discuss what educational opportunity looks like today in the nation’s capital.  DC Superior Court Magistrate Judge Diane Brenneman, Chair of the CCE School Discipline Project, introduced the program by drawing a connection to CCE’s current School Discipline Project which is assessing school discipline policies and practices in traditional and charter schools in the District from a justice systems perspective. 
5Fairness in school discipline has been elevated on the federal level with guidelines that were released earlier this year and findings showing disparities in race, class, gender and students in special education.  Relatedly, the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education released on June 4th a report showing disturbing trends in suspensions and expulsions in DC that reflect similar disparities.  This June 5th program therefore took the opportunity to not only reflect on these important 60/50 anniversaries and the role of the courts but also the continued role of the courts and other justice related agencies in ensuring broader access to education equity.

Allison Brown, President of Allison Brown Consulting and a member of CCE’s School Discipline Project Committee, moderated the panel discussion and began with a series of “then” and “now” images, one of a segregated classroom in DC before Brown. She then showed a photograph after Brown of an integrated classroom in 1957 at Anacostia High School, which historically was a majority white school, juxtaposed with a photograph reflecting Anacostia High School today, which is majority black. A short video clip then played of President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 10 years after Brown. Allison then posed a rhetorical question of what else must be done to reach the goals of this landmark case and legislation. 
The panel began with historical perspectives of Brown and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 led by Professor James Flug, American University Washington College of Law, and CCE School Discipline Project Committee members Andy Glass, Editor, Politico, and Ramona Edelin, Executive Director, DC Association of Chartered Public Schools discussed.  Professor Flug, who served as the former Chief Counsel to Senator Edward Kennedy and who arrived to Washington in 1963 for a judicial clerkship with the Chief Judge of the DC Circuit, described the history leading up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the political tenor in Washington.  Andy Glass then provided his perspectives as a veteran journalist covering the civil rights legislation and touched on legal and moral questions raised. He later in the program discussed the role of media around issues of race and implicit bias. Dr. Edelin then shared her personal experience with Brown as a daughter of the civil rights movement and growing up in Atlanta, GA.  She also emphasized that the vision of the Brown decision was not just for integrated schools but for quality education and choice of the environment in which you would be schooled. Dr. Edelin also gave a brief history of the charter school movement in DC and how charter school enrollments have quadrupled in recent years. However, she also acknowledged the 7,000 students on waiting lists for charter schools and how 75 percent of all public school children are not attending their neighborhood schools.   Her call to action was that everybody’s got to get better.
The second half of the panel discussion then focused on access to quality education post Brown which included panelists Dr. Ivory Toldson, Deputy
Director, White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities; Eboni-Rose Thompson, Program Specialist, Save the Children and ANC Commissioner and Chair of the Ward 7 Education Council; and Samantha Simpore, Behavior Specialist, Maya Angelou Academy.  Dr. Toldson discussed that while strides had been made, we continue to see re-segregation in school districts in urban areas in the North and South.  He also challenged statistics used to characterize the experiences of African American children as well as the segregation that can occur within integrated schools.  Eboni Thompson described the notion of choice in the DC public school system as someone who attended both charter and traditional DC public schools growing up in Washington. She cautioned that choice does not necessarily mean that everyone is getting what they need and that this notion of quality education in DC is something that we are still attempting to define.  
5Samantha Simpore and Dr. Toldson discussed school discipline practices in the context of educational opportunity. Ms. Simpore shared Maya Angelou Academy’s focus on using restorative practices for their scholars who are at New Beginnings, DC’s juvenile detention facility.  She stressed holding their scholars accountable to school norms but also helping them to make better decisions in the community.  Dr. Toldson presented data on disparities in suspensions and expulsions and how some schools are suspending students as early as pre-school and kindergarten.  He emphasized that public schools are products of the state and challenged communities to take ownership of them and to do everything in their power to fix public schools that are underperforming. Dr. Toldson ended by saying that in understanding the value of charter schools versus public schools, we have to treat them the same, and that right now we are not doing that.
The program concluded with a moving tribute by DC Superior Court Senior Judge (retired) Arthur Burnett to longtime CCE Board Director Julian R. Dugas who died on April 12th. Judge Burnett, who is also a member of the CCE School Discipline Project Committee, shared how Mr. Dugas had represented him in the Prince Edward and Farmville school desegregation cases and explained that they later co-taught together at Howard Law School. In his remarks, he described Mr. Dugas as a quiet legal giant who inculcated in our youngsters the idea that the law should be a means to achieving justice and civil and human rights in this country. Judge Burnett ended by saying that we lost a brilliant star in the sky and that Mr. Dugas is a bright star in all of us to move forward and follow.

A special thanks to CCE Board Director Ron Abramson for his generosity in hosting the program at the NYU Washington, DC building in the Abramson Fam
ily Auditorium as well as the reception that followed. You can view the entire panel discussion here.

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