Uncivil Rights

The feds have become a hard-core pressure group desperate to preserve a

I’ve been inspired by the sometimes brilliant and always compelling Arianna Huffington, who argued in print last week that the duo of George W. Bush and John Ashcroft will be no worse for African-Americans than the duo of Bill Clinton and Janet Reno, who incarcerated more black men than any administration in U.S. history.

It’s all rather counterintuitive, especially for we Democrats, and especially when it comes to issues of civil rights. But if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to add another plank to that platform. Impossible as it may seem, Bush, Ashcroft, and incoming secretary of education Rod Paige could dramatically enhance the civil rights of Latinos, especially in California, with the departure of Clinton, Reno, and Secretary of Education Richard Riley.

Few people know much about what I am about to disclose, and there’s been a concerted effort in California to keep things that way. The media, which truly is liberally biased (I cannot think of more than three friends among the dozens of journalists I know who ever vote Republican), simply do not want to report this complex and extremely unflattering story about the Clinton administration.

I, of course, go forth with glee in reporting a story like this, though I will keep it simpler than I would like. Here’s the gist of it:

Since the late 1960s, the Office of Civil Rights within the federal Department of Education has fought the good fight against racist school superintendents, racist school budgeting committees, and racist teachers. Backed up by the threat of potential lawsuits brought by the Department of Justice, the Office of Civil Rights has prevailed again and again in forcing change.

But as society has grown more enlightened and fewer horror stories have unfolded, the Office of Civil Rights has had to cast about in search of civil rights violations in the schools.

That’s its job. But something awful has twisted its worthy mission. The powerful adult drive for self-preservation has became the key thrust of the education department’s civil rights office under Clinton-Reno.

In California, it’s so blatant that I am embarrassed for the major newspapers that have striven to ignore this story. Under the aegis of attorney Stefan Rosenzuieg, who runs the San Francisco-based California Regional Office of Civil Rights, the feds have become little more than a hard-core pressure group desperate to preserve a failed and tragic “bilingual” education policy.

Today, across California, compliance and enforcement teams are sent in by the feds to upend schools’ teacher training, curriculum, data gathering, and testing. Small districts like Carlsbad, Orange, and Oceanside typically spend $200,000 to $500,000 each to stave off threatened “administrative reviews” that bring on ugly press coverage about supposed “discrimination” alleged by the feds. Just as bad, the schools get some of their federal funds cut off while the “review” is pending.

What awful civil rights violations are such schools guilty of? None. No civil rights violations are ever formally charged. Nope, the schools — most of which embrace Proposition 227 and are producing huge achievement gains among poor Latino children — just really pissed off the Clintonian feds.

Jim Littlejohn, a top official in the Office of Civil Rights for 27 years who worked under both Democratic and Republican administrations, mourns what his former workplace has become.

“The 13 years I spent in the field, in Texas and Arkansas, we went after true racism, actual civil rights violations,” says Littlejohn, now a part-time consultant to schools. “Now, in order to get violations, they change the standards internally as to what is improper, then go to great lengths so that the school districts in California do not know what those internal standards are. Of course, they would never admit this.”

Rosenzueig had not returned phone calls by press time.

There is, in fact, no federal law requiring Mexican-American children to be taught in Spanish. There is no federal court in the land that has said immersion English is discrimination. In fact, California state law speaks directly to the issue, requiring since 1998 that public-school children be immersed in English rather than be held back in Spanish for about five years, as the failed monolingual practice of “bilingual education” had dictated.

As we Californians know today, “bilingual” was the epitome of civil rights discrimination in the schools. California schools in the past decade alone churned out an estimated two million Mexican-American teenagers who were functionally illiterate in English, including tens of thousands born right here in California.

Jorge Amselle at the Opportunity for Equal Rights in Washington, D.C., is a decent and thoughtful man with whom I have spoken several times about the California disaster. Last week, he said he was watching with anxiety and anticipation as George W.’s transition team slowly began to take stock of the mess Clinton, Riley, and Reno are leaving behind under the rubric of “civil rights.”

“Most of the pressure on the school districts comes in private, during meetings where school leaders are told they will lose their federal funding unless they keep teaching in Spanish,” says Amselle. “The Department of Justice is never even brought in, but simply used as the ultimate threat against these schools. My concern, given the backroom way this Office of Civil Rights works, is that the California OCR is pressuring Ron Paige to go along with the old ways as we speak.”

What kind of pressure might Bush and Co. be facing? Well, imagine the headlines in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times if a Republican administration goes around messing with civil rights regulations (not laws, mind you) created by the lovely Democrats who hold the policy jobs in the Department of Education.

The Republicans are evil, racist, bastards. Right?

Well they wouldn’t be this time.

In fact, federal law and the courts give incredible latitude to the schools — and wisely so — in deciding how best to educate immigrant children in a way that lifts the barriers to their success and overcomes discrimination.

George W. probably knows that the key federal case that granted this latitude was decided in Texas in the 1980s. The court ruled, in Castenada vs. Picard, that school districts need only show: (a) Their education curriculum is based on sound theory; (b) they are implementing their curriculum in a way that should reasonably be expected to work; (c) they are producing academic results.

Clinton, Riley, and Reno decided not to make school districts achieve the third court-required prong — as in: (c) show results. The “child-centered” decision not to require results, made by all those loving liberals in Washington who thought it might be too hard on kids, is what helped “bilingual” education and a bunch of other nasty fads flourish in the United States for years.

But boy, oh boy, did Clinton, Riley, and Reno go wild in Washington pursuing the Texas court’s orders on the aforementioned (a) and (b). Rosenzuieg and his boss in D.C., Norma Cantu, joined forces to hire people just like themselves who were shrill fighters for bilingual education. They were good buddies with several loopy “theorists” who insisted that Mexican-American children should learn Spanish for five to seven years in order to become fluent in English.

They, in turn, employed platoons of federal compliance officers to conduct reviews of school districts in California and elsewhere. They were not looking to root out legitimate civil rights violations but to identify and decimate classroom curriculum, teacher-training, and testing that promoted English literacy among immigrant children.

Janet Reno lingered in the background on this scandal, never once taking one of these alleged “violations” cases in California to court. Instead, she allowed her department to be used as a club by the civil rights office as it threatened school after school with civil rights charges that the feds could not possibly have won. The schools buckled, not because they would lose in court, but because they couldn’t take the bad press while they fought federal civil rights officials.

This scam is nothing more than a narrow-minded, adult political movement built on the backs of small immigrant children. It should end sometime this week, if at all possible.

But can Bush and Paige ever clean up the Department of Education’s badly tainted Office of Uncivil Rights? And can Ashcroft show enough guts, given his grilling last week, to inform the OCR’s sneaky leaders in California and other states that DOJ attorneys will refuse to prosecute school districts for the nonexistent civil rights violation of teaching English to immigrants?

Littlejohn makes this modest proposal: The Bush administration should create a set of well-publicized basic requirements for schools that comply with Castenada vs. Picard. Hmm. Sounds too sensible.

By contrast, Clinton’s crowd played a sick and bewildering game based upon ever changing secret rules only they knew. It reminds me of the 1970s television show, The Prisoner, starring Patrick McGoohan. School districts never have an inkling if they are in or out of compliance, and they can be forced into long and costly “negotiations” and ordered to change their entire education program at any time.

I hope for the best, as does Washington-weary Littlejohn. “Bush can pick his own civil rights director and that person will hire a deputy or two and some staff will be brought in,” he says. “The rest of the work will be done by career people, and they will follow the leadership they are given, by and large.”

But that leadership won’t happen unless Bush, Paige, and Ashcroft can figure out a way to get the press off its duff and onto this amazing story. If the media don’t get it, they’ll take the easier route and fry the Republicans for trying.

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