Dear Department of Justice (DOJ), with all due respect, this Black mom wonders are we reading and learning from the same History books? Let us recap. Sixty-two years ago, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, declaring states that establish separate education laws for black and white students to be unconstitutional. This decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896, which allowed state-sanctioned segregation through "separate but equal" laws, as it applied to public education. Yet, every day, in schools across America, Black, Brown and poor parents, through compulsory education laws, are still forced to send their children to schools with state sanctioned discriminatory laws, public policies and patterns of practice. Many communities of color are questioning whether we are living the promises of Brown or in the 2.0 version of Plessy v. Ferguson "separate and still not equal!"
These state sanctioned discriminatory education practices force parents, mostly of color and the poor, to keep their children in schools that cannot meet their academic and life needs. But, the supreme court was clear, de jure racial segregation was declared a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In addition, contrary to the oppressors of equity in education, parents have constitutional rights too!
"Parenthood as an "essential" constitutional right "far more precious than property rights." May v. Anderson, 345 US 528, 533 (1952). The Supreme Court has stressed that "the parent child relationship is an important interest that undeniably warrants deference and, absent a powerful countervailing interest, protection." A parent's interest in the companionship, care, custody and management of his or her children rises to a constitutionally secured right, given the centrality of family life as the focus for personal meaning and responsibility." Stanley v. Illinois, 405 US 645, 651 (1972). See also Troxel v. Granville, 530 U. S. 57, (2000) (Because the constitution permits 4 interference with the fundamental rights of parents to rear children only to prevent harm or potential harm, a statute permitting nonparental visitation over parental objection was unconstitutional as applied) A state may not infringe on the fundamental right of parents to make child rearing decisions simply because a state judge believes a `better' decision could be made." Id., 72-73. See discussion of Troxel in Roth v. Weston, 259 Conn 202 (2002). See also. Doe v. Irwin, 441 F. Supp. 1247 (1985) where it was held that the right of parents to the care, custody and nurture of their children is of such character that it cannot be denied without violating those fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions and such a right is a fundamental right.
"Constitutional interpretation has consistently recognized that the parents' claim to authority in their own household to direct the rearing of their children is basic in the structure of our society." Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U. S. 629, 639 (1968). In Quilloin v. Walcott, 434 U. S. 246 (1978), the Court expanded on this theme: "We have recognized on numerous occasions that the relationship between parent and child is constitutionally protected. See, e.g., Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U. S. 205, 231-233 (1972); Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U. S. 645 (1972)]; Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U. S. 390- 399-401 (1923).
In my home state of Connecticut, the Supreme Court has recognized that any statute implicating the fundamental right of parents must be strictly scrutinized. Castagno v. Wholean, 5 239 Conn 336, 344 (1996)."
I say all this because, parents and guardians of children, despite race or class, have only one agenda: to ensure the safety, education and overall well-being of our children and all children - period. And this agenda has some constitutional protections.
This is not an "island" conversation. The Department of Justice, in collaboration with communities across the country, the US Office of Civil Rights and the US Department of Education, can help disenfranchised communities obtain liberation from state sanctioned discrimination, especially in education.
Why not implement student centered best practices such as money follows the child, school choice, and versions of parent empowerment laws like the "Parent trigger", which give parents the legal power to improve the conditions of the school their children attend - especially when all else fails?
Why is it an acceptable practice to send our kids to schools that may be structurally and environmentally unsafe? Where is the enforcement to ensure effective teachers are in every classroom? Why is this not the norm and most importantly why are these decisions solely at the discretion of Teacher Union seniority and tenure polices? With all due respect, educators are not the only stakeholders in education.
For the record, I know parents are not supposed to demand accountability from teacher unions because they have carte blanche and it's a political "no -no". Parents understand the politics of education because unions pour millions into political activities and campaigns to ensure they continue to have monopoly power over education policies at the local, state and federal level. Of course, you do know, for the unions to have this continued monopoly on education policy, to ensure educators get paid regardless of their performance, the educational rights of children and the return on tax payers investment must be sacrificed.
Furthermore, why are there criminal sanctions on school residency violations? And why don't parents and students have the same due process rights like educators? We know we have failing schools in neighborhoods throughout America, so why trap our kids? For parents like Kelley Williams Bolar, an Ohio Black mom, there were questions of safety for her two daughters, for the Garcia family of Pennsylvania, there was a family issue, and for Tanya McDowell of Connecticut, she used to live in a shelter, in the same out of district town she placed her 5-year-old son. They were all charged with Felonies for "stealing a free public education". Did the arrest of these parents solve our education crisis--and make no mistake we are in an education crisis!
When will the well-being of the child become a priority in politics? Because we all know everything about education is politics?
It is time to stop the enforcement of state sanctioned discriminatory public policies that rush to judgement and want to make examples of marginalized communities in hopes of deterring them from seeking quality educational opportunities for their children when limited or none may exist in their own neighborhood.
Please note, I did not say Black parents want a "hand out" for their children. Black parents want the constitutional promises of Brown that states de jure racial segregation was declared a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This means, the Constitution does not end at the Schoolhouse doors!
The ruling of Brown put in motion the so-called process of integrating classrooms across America.
For the record, just because black children are in a classroom with white children, doesn't mean we are integrated, it just means we have black children in the classroom with white children, still segregated by public policy, stereotypes, biases, and belief gaps!
To further complicate matters for Black and poor communities, our country is preparing to vote for the next President of the United States which means those contributing Super Pac big campaign donations will control the agendas of those running for public office! Where does that leave the rights of the middle class, the working poor and the disenfranchised - more importantly the children? It goes without saying when America gets a cold the Black community gets Pneumonia (sigh).
For parents of color, the time has come for us to "own our parent power" like never before because our children's lives are literally at stake. Now some will say that sounds radical, because it is, with radical being defined as a parent who fights for revolutionary reforms in education to ensure that all children have access to high quality educational opportunities.
As a Country, we need to stand with cases like Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, where some teachers are standing up for children and teachers by stating its unconstitutional for them to pay union dues to support policies that deny children equity in the classroom. Or the nine courageous California students in Vergara v. California who seek effective teachers in every classroom or the parent-led Davids v. New York lawsuit that declares certain statutes in New York Education Law to be unconstitutional.
Let me be clear, as decision making adults, we should not negotiate when it comes to protecting the safety, education and overall well-being of children, but I am also a realist and I understand you can't legislate the heart. However, Martin Luther King Jr.'s lived experiences said it best, "It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important."
Department of Justice, I know addressing racism, classism, and sexism takes moral courage, especially in this political climate of Trump, Hilary Clinton and the revolutionary Bernie Sanders. Yet, in order to ensure equity in education and keep children safe, you must enforce your mission statement which clearly states you are obligated to: "enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans."
Black, Brown and poor communities across the United States deserve your commitment to "ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans," this includes ensuring equity in education because the constitution does not end at the school house door and you do know Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned, right!