Evanston, IL

Evanston Township's Segregated Classrooms Attacked as Unconstitutional

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Civil rights attorneys call Evanston-area school district's program to racially segregate English, math classes to increase minority students' scores “unconstitutional”

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Civil rights attorneys have raised alarms over a controversial initiative in am Evanston-area school district, asserting that Evanston Township High School's programs to segregate English and math classes for Black and Latino students may be deemed unconstitutional.

Legal expert David Bernstein emphasized the potential legal challenges, stating that the AXLE (Advancing Excellence, Lifting Everyone) program for Black students and the Ganas program for Latino students are "blatantly unconstitutional." Citing the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law, Bernstein underscores the precarious legal standing of such initiatives.

Evanston Township School District Superintendent Marcus Campbell defends the separate courses as optional, aiming to provide a "different, more familiar setting" for Black and Hispanic students who may feel anxious about participating in Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

The Legal Landscape: A Constitutional Perspective

The landmark Brown v. Board of Education case established by the Supreme Court expressly forbids segregation, deeming it inherently unequal under the Fourteenth Amendment. While proponents argue that the AXLE and Ganas programs are optional and provide a supportive environment for students of color, critics question their conformity with constitutional principles.

The Evanston Township school board emphasizes equity in decision-making, acknowledging racism's detrimental impact on student achievement. However, critics contend that the racial composition of the district, with only 44% white students, does not justify segregated programs.

Evolving Program Dynamics and Public Backlash

In response to backlash, district officials clarified that participation in AXLE or Ganas classes is not restricted to Black or Hispanic students. The course descriptions were amended to stress openness to all students while emphasizing support for those identifying as 'Latinx' or 'Black.'

Despite controversy, enrollment figures reveal 105 students in the Ganas program and 86 in AXLE courses, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Advocates argue that these initiatives provide a sense of belonging for students of color in predominantly white AP classes.

The Impact on Student Perception and Performance

Students in the programs share positive experiences, expressing relief from the pressure of representing their entire racial group in integrated AP classes. The reported sense of belonging aligns with survey findings indicating that 56% of Evanston Township High School students feel a sense of belonging, with varying percentages by race.

While proponents highlight improved AP test results among students of color, critics like William Trachman, a former official in the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, raise concerns about the Title IV law, which prohibits race discrimination in federally-funded programs. Trachman argues that the law does not differentiate between mandatory and optional activities.

Long-Term Goals and Ongoing Challenges

Racial equity consultant Glenn Singleton, who worked with the school for over a decade, acknowledges the necessity of such programs but underscores the ultimate goal: eliminating disparities rather than relying on affinity sections. Despite positive aspects, the ongoing underperformance of Black and Hispanic students prompts continued scrutiny and efforts to address underlying challenges.

In a recent school board meeting, Monique Parsons, the vice president, acknowledged the persistent achievement gap, emphasizing the need for continuous efforts to rectify the situation.



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