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D.C. Defends Plan For School That Would Serve Only Boys

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One D.C. lawmaker is asking whether it’s fair to provide additional resources to minority boys students but not minority girls.
Michael Wyszomierski: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wysz/73000961/
One D.C. lawmaker is asking whether it’s fair to provide additional resources to minority boys students but not minority girls.

As D.C. lawmakers look to boost the academic prospects of black and Hispanic boys, some are questioning why minority female students don’t receive the same treatment.

Minority male students make up 43 percent of the District of Columbia public school system. Test scores, according to school officials, show this group of students is struggling compared to their peers.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, along with Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, is proposing to build an all-boys high school as well as spend millions of dollars on other special programs for the group. It’s called the “Empowering Men of Color Initiative.” It will add literacy mentors, boost other programs and, critically, it’ll create an all-boys public school east of the Anacostia River.

Bowser told Council members Wednesday that the city must act now.

"None of us would be doing our job if we didn’t realize how far and how fast the boys and men of color are falling behind," Bowser said. "We have to do everything we can — within the law of course — to make sure we are targeting those very significant gaps.”

But one lawmaker is asking whether it’s fair to provide additional resources to minority boys students but not minority girls. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) has asked D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine to look into the issue.

“I think its a great thing to target the problems of minority boys, but I think it's required under the law that you have comparable programs for struggling minority girls,” Cheh said. “And the sooner we attend to that the better.”

Cheh isn’t the only one asking questions. This week the regional chapter of the ACLU sent a letter to Racine asking whether the proposed school would violate federal laws, and it questioned how effective the school would be.

"We support an investment to address the systemic racial inequities in our education system,” wrote ACLU executive director Monica Hopkins-Maxwell. “But we question whether an all-male prep school is the most effective way to address racial disparities in educational achievement."

Henderson told Council members that she has consulted with the U.S. Department of Education and believes the program is on strong legal footing.

“As far as whether or not girls are facing persistent issues, of course they are,” Henderson told Council members. “So are my English-language learners. So our my special-education students.”

Henderson said just because the city is focusing on boys “doesn’t mean we won’t continue to meet the needs of girls.”

Attorney General Racine says he is reviewing case law to minimize the city’s “legal exposure” as the District move forward with the program.

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