Race-segregated classes in Illinois high school violate the Civil Rights Act, warns US commissioner

An Illinois school district has been offering separate high school math and English classes for black and Latino students, taught by teachers of color, a move that amounts to racial discrimination…

An Illinois school district has been offering separate high school math and English classes for black and Latino students, taught by teachers of color, a move that amounts to racial discrimination and is likely in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

That’s what Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights wrote last week to the interim superintendent of Evanston/Skokie District 65 in the wake of news reports that Evanston Township High School (ETHS) was providing the racially segregated “affinity” classes.

In the letter obtained by The Lion, Kirsanow, a Republican member of the commission who serves also as chairman of the board of directors of the Center for New Black Leadership, wrote to Dr. Angel Turner: 

Presumably the district has been advised by its lawyers that these racially segregated classes are lawful because they are voluntary for students. The question is: which students? Is the district offering affinity classes for students of other races? Is there an algebra 2 affinity class for white students? Is there an English composition class for Asian students? If the answer to any of these questions is “No,” District 65 is violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act … 

Kirsanow, who wrote solely on behalf of himself and not the entire commission, added that another area of “legal exposure” for the district is that the segregated classes are taught by a “teacher of color.” 

“Assigning teachers to classes based on their race is racial discrimination and violates Title VII,” he wrote.  

According to Title VII,  

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 

“The school district is inescapably classifying its employees and applicants for employment differently because of their race,” Kirsanow explained. “Because only black teachers may teach the affinity classes for black students, and only Latino teachers may teach the classes for Latino students, there are more positions available for black and Latino teachers than for teachers of other races.” 

Additionally, the racially segregated classes with teachers of the same race means the district is likely to hire more black and Hispanic teachers, instead of white and Asian, since the former will have more flexibility in which classes they teach, Kirsanow said. 

But assigning teachers to classes based on their race is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the commissioner asserted. 

In August, then-Superintendent Marcus Campbell told the school newspaper the high school’s six racial “affinity” higher-level math and English classes were created to help ease the anxiety of students of color “in white dominated spaces,” as reported by local KATU 2. 

“A lot of kids of color talk about feeling very isolated,” Campbell said. “And so we think, ‘How can we provide an opportunity to reduce performance anxiety and follow the research on stereotype threat and provide a different, more familiar setting to kids who feel really anxious about being in an AP class?’” 

In a report defensive of the school district’s commitment to such “affinity” classes, The Evanstonian commented on the firestorm over the racially segregated classes while reporting black and Hispanic students enrolled in the courses said “the affinity spaces felt less like a classroom and more like a community.” 

In May, Libs of TikTok posted screenshots on X of two course catalogue items from ETHS’s math curriculum for the 2023-2024 school. 
“This code for the course is restricted to students who identify as Latinx, all genders,” noted one description for a pre-calculus course, while another said the course is restricted to black male students. 

A version of next year’s Course Request Guide, however, contains a listing for an AP Precalculus course which says, “This course will emphasize examples that some individuals in the Black community identify as shared experiences.” 

What appears to be another identical AP Precalculus course contains the description, “This course will emphasize examples that some individuals in the Latinx community identify as shared experiences.” 

Caroline Moore, vice president of Parents Defending Education, told KATU 2 the racially segregated classes are “problematic because they’re getting a different class experience than everyone else.” 

Moore’s organization has launched numerous lawsuits against school districts that have employed race-based “affinity groups,” arguing they have committed “egregious civil liberties violations.” 

“School is supposed to be a diversity of ideas,” Moore said. 

In his letter to District 65’s superintendent, Kirsanow asked a series of questions, including: 

  • Does District 65 believe that racial diversity is important? If so, why does the district offer racially segregated classes? These classes plainly reduce diversity.  
  • Does District 65 believe it is preparing its students for the workplace? If so, does the District believe its black and Hispanic students will be able to continue to self-segregate in the workplace? Or does the District believe that black and Hispanic students will be hired to work in all-black or all-Hispanic hospitals, schools, fire departments, and law firms?  
  • Does the District believe its students can isolate themselves from other races in the marketplace and in public accommodations?  

Kirsanow closed by citing Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in Parents Involved in Community Sch. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”