The American Civil Liberties Union says it has been pressing the District’s attorney general for a month to produce the official admission policy to the city’s new all-boys high school as it argues that Ron Brown College Preparatory violates federal and city laws by excluding girls.
Although it has not yet received the policy, ACLU representatives say they emerged from a telephone call with lawyers from the attorney general’s office Friday believing that the city had changed its policy and would now admit girls to the school, which was designed around a program that aims to boost minority-male achievement. The advocacy group celebrated and released a statement Monday saying that D.C. Public Schools had reversed course.
But DCPS — which was not involved in the Friday conference call — and the attorney general’s office immediately refuted the announcement Monday, saying that the admission policy had not changed and that the school is still only for boys.
“The application period for school year 2017-2018 will open in a few months, and we look forward to serving another class of outstanding young men at this school designed for the specific needs of young men,” said Michelle Lerner, a school system spokeswoman. “At the same time, DCPS continues to provide and expand the opportunities to meet the unique needs of our female students.”
Monica Hopkins-Maxwell, president of the ACLU’s D.C. chapter, said her office specifically asked city attorneys whether girls can apply to Ron Brown through the school lottery system, and whether they can gain acceptance to the new school. She said city officials said that no girls applied to the all-boys school in its inaugural year and that there is no policy in place to exclude girls from the school if they were to apply.
But city officials disputed that interpretation of the conversation.
“Our office is disappointed that the ACLU has inaccurately characterized details of that conversation,” the attorney general’s office said Monday in a news release. “As DCPS has made clear, they have not made any policy change with regard to admissions to Ron Brown. Contrary to suggestions by the ACLU, [the attorney general’s office] did not say that the admissions policy had changed, nor did our office say that DCPS has any plans to change that policy in the future.”
But ACLU officials said the phone conversation was the first time they had heard that girls could apply to Ron Brown.
“We had been delighted to learn on Friday that girls would be given the same equal educational opportunities as boys,” Hopkins-Maxwell said. “The D.C. government should be clear about its admissions policy — to do otherwise erodes the public trust.”
Ron Brown opened for its first year this month, part of a $20 million citywide Empowering Males of Color initiative that aims to boost the academic performance of minority males in the school system — a group that is performing well below their peers by many measures.
Since D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced the initiative in January 2015, critics have argued that the law does not conform with the D.C. Human Rights Act, or the Equal Protection Clause in the Constitution, because it excludes girls.
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine has said the program is legal because its rationale — to boost achievement among the city’s lowest-performing demographic — is “exceedingly persuasive.” He has said he would defend the initiative if challenged in court.
Hopkins-Maxwell said if the city does not reverse its policy on the high school or the other initiatives, the advocacy organization would be willing to “exhaust all of our options,” including taking the issue to court.