HOUSTON – Two civil rights organizations are seeking a federal review of public school education in Texas, accusing state school administrators of violating federal civil rights laws after curriculum changes approved earlier this year by the Texas Board of Education.
The request to the U.S. Department of Education made by the Texas NAACP and Texas League of United Latin American Citizens on Monday contended that the curriculum changes passed in May "were made with the intention to discriminate" and would have a "stigmatizing impact" on African-American and Latino students.
"The State of Texas is failing to provide many of its minority students with equal educational opportunities," documents sent to the federal department said.
The request, signed by Gary Bledsoe, president of the state NAACP, and Joey D. Cardenas Jr., state director of Texas LULAC, asked that implementation of the curriculum changes and new standardized tests be stopped for being racially or ethnically offensive or historically inaccurate.
Besides the curriculum complaint, they accused the state, the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Board of Education of "miseducation" of minority students, disparate discipline for minority students, using accountability standards to impose sanctions on schools with high numbers of minority students and rules leading to underrepresentation of minorities in gifted and talented school programs.
Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman said the complaint was being reviewed but had no immediate comment Monday. Gail Lowe, chair of the education board, said she was aware of the filing "but I don't know the specific nature of any allegations or problems they allege."
Capping a contentious meeting in May and after months of discussions, the Republican-dominated Texas State Board of Education, voting along party lines, adopted a social studies and history curriculum that amended or watered down the teaching of the civil rights movement, religious freedoms, America's relationship with the United Nations and hundreds of other items. Supporters said the revisions were intended to correct decisions by a previous board a decade earlier.
"This is like in your face, like showing the ultimate in disrespect," Bledsoe said. "To suggest the positive aspects of slavery or to exalt Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy is just an abomination. I mean no disrespect to people who may have had ancestors who were part of that, but it is what it is."
The ideological decisions by the school board contribute to what 4.8 million Texas students learn about political events and figures over the next decade. The request by the civil rights groups argued those decisions may have influence beyond the state boundaries because Texas, as one of the nation's largest textbook purchasers, influences publishers whose textbooks are sold elsewhere.
"It is our contention that the (school board) curriculum changes were made with the intention to discriminate," Bledsoe and Cardenas said in their filing to the federal department's Office for Civil Rights in Washington, and the board's action "has violated or will violate" the Civil Rights Act and the Constitution.
"It's not a lawsuit but it is kind of a potential legal proceeding," Bledsoe said of the request in an interview. "We've asked them to do a proactive review . to do a more in-depth review in reference to the concerns we've raised, and in the course of that review we're asking that if we're vindicated that some of the things we get would be stopping them from implementing these standards."
Their request for a federal review also pointed to "high stakes" state assessment tests "that do not adequately test for all relevant and important educational information," contending the standardized tests given to students "disproportionately fail minority students and ultimately are important factors in causing large numbers of minority students to drop out of Texas public schools."
In addition, they contended disciplinary actions against minority students compared to white students "are grossly disproportionate and unjustified."