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Groups Object to Reducing Racial-Disparity Data from Schools

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Civil-rights and education groups say the coronavirus pandemic should not be employed as an excuse to reduce data collection on school-related civil-rights issues. (AndreaKoch/Pixabay)
Civil-rights and education groups say the coronavirus pandemic should not be employed as an excuse to reduce data collection on school-related civil-rights issues. (AndreaKoch/Pixabay)
August 19, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Since 1968, public schools have relied on data gathered by the U.S. Department of Education to address racial disparities. But watchdog groups worry that COVID-19 is being used as an excuse to limit the data collection.

Liz King, director of education equity at the Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights, said the information, collected every other school year, allows parents to understand students' experiences in schools and whether they have equal access to education. When the data is kept out of the public eye, King said, parents don't know if there's injustice at a school. She said she believes this is the wrong time to cut back.

"The COVID-19 public-health crisis is limiting educational opportunity for children who are African-American, who are Latinx, who are Native American, Asian American, who have a disability or who are English learners," she said.

Instead of covering the 2019-2020 school year as originally planned, the Education Department plans to move the latest round of data collection to the upcoming school year and reduce the number of schools involved. Now, every public school is required to participate.

King said the data also allow families, educators and others to see online whether a school is racially diverse. It also reveals the number of suspensions at a school, sexual-identity harassment and which schools offer advanced-placement classes. King said she believes U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to undermine civil-rights protections children are entitled to by law.

"And what we see as the proposed changes in the civil-rights data collection is part and parcel of that anti-civil-rights agenda," King said, "the anti-student agenda that Secretary DeVos has been advancing her entire time in office."

The Leadership Conference and 37 other civil-rights and education organizations have sent a letter asking the Education Department to preserve the "scope, frequency, and public accessibility" of the civil-rights data collection.

The proposed changes are online at federalregister.gov.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM