DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson (Courtesy photo)
DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson (Courtesy photo)

When we first heard about the District’s plan to invest $20 million into a program that would address the decades-long achievement gap experienced by Black and Hispanic males with the establishment of an all-boys college preparatory high school east of the river, we were encouraged.

After all, these boys have continuously had the lowest graduation rates at 48 and 57 percent, respectively, compared to 82 percent for white male students. Math proficiency rates are even worse at 37 and 55 percent for Black and Hispanic males, respectively, compared to 91 percent for whites. Finally, Black students are suspended, therefore losing invaluable classroom time, at a rate much higher than any other demographic group at 58 percent.

When D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson first unveiled the plan in January 2015, she indicated that the initiative would also offer Districtwide tutoring programs, gender-based academies and activities at low-performing schools. Now, the ACLU, after publishing a new study, has questioned the legality of the “Empowering Males of Color,” saying school officials have failed to provide compelling data that justifies creating a program that excludes female students.

It’s not the first time that the ACLU and other city officials have questioned the program’s legality and fairness. And it certainly won’t be the last. Truth be told, Black and Hispanic female students have similar deficiencies when it comes to graduation, math proficiency and suspension rates – but not to the extent of their male counterparts.

D.C. Public Schools say they will continue to move forward with the plan. D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine, who previously said the program does not violate the federally-mandated Equal Protection Clause, says while he will review the ACLU’s study, he will defend the initiative if it’s challenged in court.

We cannot allow one more day where a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic boys ind themselves staring into the barrels of guns, being shuttled into “temporary shelters” thanks to the profit-making prison industrial complex, holding down places in city morgues or helplessly stuck on street corners.

It’s impossible to fix all of the problems at once. For now we advocate changing the conditions for those worst off – Black and Hispanic male students.

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