The Department of Education under President Biden has halted a decision made by the Trump Administration that “affinity groups” in schools are effectively discrimination, and violative of civil rights law. During the Trump Presidency, a series of events occurred in multiple school districts, including one in Chicago where a teacher filed a complaint that prompted the investigation, about “affinity groups” and practices that segregated students and teachers on the basis of race in order to hold separate and distinct training on equity.
One example focused on in the DOE investigation under the Trump Administration was of the Evanston-Skokie School District in Illinois. The 18 page “letter of finding” developed by the DOE Office of Civil Rights stated that the district violated the law by dividing administrators for a training program into white and non-white groups, offering “racially exclusive affinity groups” to students, directing staffers to consider a student’s race when providing a punishment/discipline, and also implementing a “colorism privilege walk.” Instructions to for this walk stated, as reported by the New York Post, “If you are white take 2 steps forward. If you’re a person of color with dark skin, take 2 steps back. If you’re black, take 2 steps back.” According to the lesson plan for the so-called “colorism privilege walk,” the purpose was to make white students “learn more about white privilege, internalized dominance, microaggressions and how to act as an ally for students of color.”
Carol Ashely, the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights enforcement director under the Trump Administration, wrote the 18-page “letter of finding” that deemed the practices in the school district violative of Title 6 regulations, and civil rights law for “intentional race discrimination by coordinating and conducting racially exclusive affinity groups, which resulted in the separation of participants in district programs based on race… The District’s policy to impose racial discrimination in discipline has no part in federally funded education programs or activities.”
However, after President Biden was sworn into office on January 20th and signed an executive order on racial equity, the investigation into the district was put on hold. “Last month, the proceedings were suspended by OCR pending its reconsideration of the case in light of the Executive Orders on racial equity issued by President Biden,” the Superintendent of the Evanston Skokie School District Devon Horton said.