Grassroots Parents Organization Files Complaints Claiming Discrimination in Schools Separating Students Based on Race

Parents Defending Education (PDE), a grassroots parental rights organization, filed three complaints Tuesday with the Biden Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that allege discrimination in schools that formed “racial affinity” groups or “community circles” to separate students based on their race.

The complaints allege that discrimination occurred in schools in OregonMaine, and Vermont where students were organized according to their race, which, the complaints argue, is in violation of the 14th Amendment.

“These groups encourage students to go into an identity group and exclude students who do not fit that,” said PDE President and Founder Nicki Neily in a statement. “We believe that this is not only immoral, but this is also unconstitutional because what these school districts are doing with federal funding is they are treating students differently on the basis on race, which is prohibited both by Title VI, as well as by the 14th amendment.”

To the complaint filed against Ashland School District in Oregon, PDE attached “evidence in the form of lists of affinity groups at Ashland High School (Exhibit A), Ashland Middle School (Exhibit B), and a job posting for an “Elementary Student Affinity Group Advisor” (Exhibit C), which is posted online at ZipRecruiter and denotes a placement at Bellview Elementary School (Exhibit D).”

PDE notes the document reveals Ashland School District engages in “affinity group programming at all three levels – elementary school, middle school, and high school,” whereby some programs “are only open to students of specific ethnicities, and the program descriptions do not make participation in these affinity groups open to all.”

In Portland Public Schools in Maine, PDE found “evidence in the form of the district’s Human Resources page on Affinity Groups (Exhibit A), which promotes the district’s “BIPOC Community Circle,” which originally was found online here, but has apparently now been scrubbed from the Portland Public Schools website.

According to PDE:

This exhibit reveals that Portland Public Schools’ “BIPOC Community Circle” is only open to staff of specific ethnicities (“The BIPOC Community Circle welcomes all Black, Indigenous, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Latinx, and mixed race staff members,” Ex. A at 2). The program description does not make participation in this affinity group open to all.

“Indeed, the site’s link to the article ‘Why People of Color Need Spaces without White People’ serves to further underscore that not all staff members would be welcome – and that this exclusion would be based solely on an individual’s race. (Ex. A at 2),” PDE continues.

According to the document, the district’s website noted staff who participate in the “BIPOC” program may also qualify for other “social gatherings,” as well as “career pathways support and emotional support and advocacy” – all of which “do not appear to be offered to all staff members,” states PDE.

The complaint against Shelburne Community School in Vermont states the school created a “BIPOC Affinity Group.”

The exhibit attached to the complaint “reveals that Shelburne Community School is developing an ‘opt-in racial affinity group for students in grades 3-8 identifying as Black, Indigenous, or people of color.’”

“The program description does not make participation in these affinity groups open to all,” PDE notes.

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Susan Berry, PhD is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].

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