What's in a Name? A Lawsuit, of course.
This column article discusses the ramifications of special school programs designed
to address a particular sub-group of the public school population. A recent court
ruling from the U.S. Dept. of Education's Office of Civil Rights implies that groups
that discriminate against or exclude others based on race or sex are in violation of the
civil rights statute that prohibits this. The writer gave an example of an exemplary
program in Prince George's County, Maryland, called the Black Male Achievement Initiative (BMAI), which was formed to mentor this population and foster achievement.
Prior to this ruling, discrimination with a defensible purpose, such as targeting
an at-risk population, was considered acceptable. However, this ruling may change
how educators look at the issue. The writer defends the ruling, stating that "the
idea of special treatment for those with special problems is easiest to accept in family settings."
Funding discrimination with public money, this writer argues, sometimes offers an
umbrella of opportunity for those who need help, as well as those who don't. In effect,
stating that all people of a certain racial or ethnic group are disadvantaged in
some manner by virtue of their race or ethnicity is no longer tenable. Therefore, not
all members of a group should be afforded access to special programs that offer remediation
or mentoring if they don't all need it.
The writer concludes by asking, "Wouldn't it make sense to have the special program
for students with special needs (not racial or gender groups)?" In addition, he asks,"
... wouldn't it make sense to avoid calling it by a name that suggests exclusion?"
There is much grist here for lawsuits.
Programs will probably have to be more specific in name and purpose in order to
avoid including those who don't need the special treatment, as well as to avoid excluding
those who do.
Administrators would do well to see who their programs are targeting to avoid litigation.
Durham Herald Sun, Durham, NC. Friday, Feb.2, 1996, p.12A.