The Challenges We Still Face on the 63rd Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

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Sixty-three years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education – one of the most important decisions ever handed down by the United States Supreme Court – ending (we thought) the tyranny of “separate but equal” policies in America.

Brown was the result of a decades-long, multi-pronged, and disciplined strategy. Known as the “Houston Plan,” the strategy first took shape at Howard University of Law School in the early 1930s, and combined impact litigation, innovative use of social science, and collaboration with civil rights organizations across the political spectrum.

Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, Robert Carter, Constance Baker Motley, Jack Greenberg, and others litigated all around the country in their efforts to take down Plessy v. Ferguson, the case that enshrined “separate but equal” in the law. These brilliant strategists wove social science into the law to illustrate the corrosive effect segregation had on the psyches of both African Americans and whites, showing how one group internalized a sense of inferiority while the other, a sense of superiority. Their efforts culminated in the landmark decision that overturned Plessy on May 17, 1954.

The Equal Justice Society has modeled our strategy to overturn the Intent Doctrine after the “Houston Plan” – combining impact litigation, the innovative use of social science, and collaboration with progressive and occasionally radical civil rights organizations.

Threats Remain: School-to-Prison Pipeline, Implicit Bias

More than five decades after Brown, and 149 years after the enactment of the 14th Amendment, there is no doubt that deep racial disparities still persist. The Supreme Court has been systematically gutting the Brown decision over the past 63 years in ways that would make Justice Thurgood Marshall and Judge Constance Baker Motley weep.

We’re also still in the early stages of understanding and countering the implicit bias and racial trauma fueling the school-to-prison pipeline that betrays thousands of children in our country by criminalizing them instead of providing them with supportive and inclusive school environments.

EJS has been battling the school-to-prison pipeline along with our allies in a number of ways. We have sued school districts that suspend and expel Brown and Black students in disproportionate numbers. We have given countless presentations on implicit bias and its implications for the educational opportunities of children of color. We have also participated in writing amicus briefs and scholarly articles on how racism both overt and implicit negatively impacts our children.

The U.S. incarcerates more of its children than any other country in the world. The school-to-prison pipeline is a key component of this system that imprisons roughly 70,000 children per year.

Increasingly, harsh school discipline policies that start with suspension or expulsion of students lead to a downward spiral into the criminal justice system. Students removed from the school environment fall behind academically, are at higher risk of getting in trouble, feel stigmatized when they return to school, and are more likely to drop out, never obtaining high school diplomas.

This correlation between overly harsh school discipline, drop-out rates, and the juvenile justice system creates the gateway to the school-to-prison pipeline.

‘Breaking the Chains’ Report on How Implicit Bias and Racial Trauma Fuel the School-to-Prison Pipeline

In late 2016, the Equal Justice Society issued a report describing the factors playing into the disproportionate suspension or expulsion of these vulnerable students and their eventual path to the criminal justice system.

Among these factors are the lack of teacher training and support, the increased placement of police officers at schools, the consequent application of law enforcement tactics on students, implicit bias, the use of broad discretion in school discipline, racial anxiety and trauma, and lack of diversity and cultural sensitivity among teachers and administrators.

The executive summary and complete report is available at https://equaljusticesociety.org/breakingthechains. This report was made possible by a grant from The California Endowment and produced by a team of contributors, including: Zabrina Aleguire, Anna Basallaje, Christopher Bridges, Kyle Kate Dudley, Allison Elgart, Eva Paterson, Jasleen Singh, Ali Stack, Breanna Williams, and Itir Yakar.

Civil Rights Lesson Plans for Middle and High School Students

During our ‘Civil Rights at 50’ campaign, the Equal Justice Society provided free lesson plans based on Wherever There’s a Fight, the award-winning Heyday book by Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi about the struggle to develop and protect rights in California.

The lesson plans, created by Jennifer Rader and Jah-Yee Woo, are still available for educators who would like to teach civil rights in their high school and middle school classrooms.

The six lesson plans for high school and middle school classrooms were originally published separately on the Wherever There’s a Fight website, wherevertheresafight.com, and are combined into one document for this special edition.

Download the lesson plans packet as a PDF

TalkToKids.net: How to Talk With Children About Hate Speech

In November, the Equal Justice Society launched a web guide on how to talk with children about hate speech. We asked a group of academics, pollsters, psychologists, lawyers, and activists to help put together a guide for adults in response to the hate brewing during and after the presidential election.

We were concerned about the impact the hateful language during and after the election has had on our children. Rather than just get upset, we created a guide for parents and adults on how to deal with this.

We hope parents, teachers, school bus drivers, school administrators, playground monitors, godmothers and godfathers, and all of us who love and care for our children will benefit from our work.

Explore this site and let us know what you think – http://talktokids.net.

Support EJS and our efforts with your donation!