Civil Rights Commissioner Objects to Institutionalized Racism in Minneapolis Public Schools

We wrote here about the Minneapolis public schools imposing a quota system for suspending students. I wrote:

Why does [School Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson] suppose that students, white, black, Asian, Hispanic or whatever, are being suspended? Presumably it is because they were disruptive and were degrading the learning environment for the other students. Does Ms. Johnson seriously believe that teachers and principals are suspending students for no reason? If so, then those teachers and principals should be identified and fired. But of course Ms. Johnson believes no such thing.

Today Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow wrote an excellent letter to Ms. Johnson, questioning both the wisdom and the legality of a racial quota system in the public schools. You can read it in its entirety below. Here are a few key paragraphs:

The Seventh Circuit has addressed the problem of racial quotas in school discipline. In People Who Care v. Rockford Bd. of Educ., Judge Posner wrote, “Racial disciplinary quotas violate equity in its root sense. They entail either systematically overpunishing the innocent or systematically underpunishing the guilty. They place race at war with justice. They teach schoolchildren an unedifying lesson of racial entitlements.” The Seventh Circuit’s criticisms apply as well to Minneapolis’s new quotas for racial discipline. It too exposes students who belong to non-preferred races to a stricter discipline policy than students who belong to preferred races. It teaches them that justice is not colorblind and that we do not stand or fall on our individual merit. In the event of litigation, I expect that the Eighth Circuit will find its sister circuit’s reasoning persuasive.

This profound inequity is the potential constitutional problem with this discipline policy. Achieving a state of affairs where there is no racial disparity in discipline by 2018 means that there will have to be differential treatment of misbehaving students based on their race. There is, to our knowledge, no substantive allegation that black or brown students are being treated more harshly in Minneapolis schools on the basis of their race. If there were such an allegation, this new policy would refer to concrete examples of racially disparate treatment rather than racial disparities in discipline. Racial disparities in school discipline have been common knowledge for years. If it were possible for such disparities to be solved through racially neutral policies, it would have happened by now. The idea that MPS will be able to eliminate the racial disparity in discipline by 2018 without either treating black and brown students more leniently or white students more harshly is unrealistic and absurd.

This is the dark side of disparate impact. In trying to avoid disparate impacts caused by racially neutral policies, entities begin to deliberately discriminate by treating people differently based on race.

Which obviously is what the Minneapolis public schools have in mind. Is that illegal? Sure, but when has the law ever stopped a liberal? Here is Commissioner Kirsanow’s letter:

Minneapolis School Discipline Letter

Responses