BREAKING: Seattle Public Schools Are Hit With Federal Civil Rights Complaints Over Racial Segregation, Separated Students By Race In Programs 

Credit: South Seattle Emerald

Seattle Public Schools find themselves wrapped up in a federal civil rights investigation for separating students by race in multiple youth programs. This happens one month after they quickly removed racial eligibility criteria from a potluck that implied whites and Jews was excluded.

Just The News reported:

The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism filed a complaint Tuesday with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against the district’s Pathfinder K-8 School after a year of unheeded warnings that its practices violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

It’s FAIR’s first OCR complaint and “the most egregious version” of racial separation it has seen in submissions to its tracking portal, Managing Director of Legal Advocacy Leigh Ann O’Neill told Just the News. Multiple sets of Pathfinder parents started notifying FAIR in November 2021 but have not spoken publicly for fear of being called a “bigot,” she said.

There’s precedent for a federal investigation, even in the Biden administration. 

Atlanta Public Schools also find themselves under an OCR probe for allegedly segregating black students in their own classrooms and retaliating against parents who objected to their daughter’s placement in that classroom. 

Atlanta Public Schools also recently separated a majority-black school from majority-White schools in an “academic recovery” summer program.

FAIR’s complaint shows Pathfinder’s invitations to “BIPOC” (black, indigenous, people of color) and multiracial families and students for events and programs that include a “Community Cafe,” feedback-oriented “Listening Sessions” and “Lunchtime Community Building Groups.”

Pathfinder said last fall it would offer “affinity groups” for BIPOC, mixed-race, white, and Jewish children, but cut it back to just black students in January. It was first offered to middle schoolers and then elementary students.

Just The News said, “The purpose of the separation is starkly different based on the racial group, according to Principal Britney Holmes’ Feb. 13, 2022 newsletter, which is quoted in O’Neill’s letter and describes Pathfinder’s first affinity group meeting Feb. 1.”

The newsletter said that participants in the white group “embrace, excavate, and reckon with their Whiteness, including their privilege and power,” and “examine how to center the voices and experiences of BIPOC without harming and/or re-traumatizing BIPOC.”

The BIPOC group, in contrast, gives the students time to “take care of themselves and one another while unpacking racism, internalized oppression, and racialized trauma, discussing the impact of White Supremacy Culture and the pressure of assimilation in the absence of Whiteness,” Holmes wrote.

“That a public school might offer a racially-segregated group for every race of student within the school does not mitigate the illegality of this practice” under longstanding Supreme Court and OCR precedents, O’Neill’s OCR letter says. It also teaches students “it is unsafe to be around those who do not share the same skin color.”

The creation of Pathfinder’s “affinity groups” started after a “rope fashioned as a noose” was found outside the school.

In FAIR’s previous letters about Pathfinder, it said that adults directed children to groups “based on the darkness of their skin” and “in some cases physically guided” them when they chose the wrong group, according to the April 2022 letter. 

In a November letter for FAIR, it emphasized that the affinity groups do not treat the students fairly. White students are instructed to “admit to and atone for their ongoing acts of oppression” while “self-care” is the purpose of the nonwhite group. “It is irrelevant that participation may be voluntary” under Washington law, it says.

“I guess I’m a little bit not optimistic that the district will end the practices, but filing the federal complaint shows the community what their kids would be involved in” if they attended Pathfinder,” O’Neill said.

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