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Chicago-area district offers segregated classes for black and Latino students as part of effort to combat racism
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Chicago-area district offers segregated classes for black and Latino students as part of effort to combat racism

A Chicago-area school district has begun offering segregated advanced-level courses for black and Latino students as part of a larger effort to combat racism, which it calls "the most devastating factor" in academic achievement disparities.

Last spring, Evanston Township High School began offering several race-based higher-level courses, including algebra 2, pre-calculus, AP calculus, and advanced English. These so-called "affinity" courses do not just seemingly discriminate against white students but also other minority students, as AXLE — which stands for Advancing Excellence, Lifting Everyone — is geared toward black students, while Ganas — a Spanish term that the New York Post translated as "giving it all you got" — is designed for Latino students.

Superintendent Marcus Campbell recently defended the programs, arguing that they provide "a different, more familiar setting to kids who feel really anxious about being in an AP class." And at least one black student who has participated in an affinity course confirmed that the segregated setting made him feel more comfortable. "In AP classes that are mostly white, I feel like if I answer wrong, I am representing all black kids. I stay quiet in those classes," the unnamed student said.

The programs have also demonstrated marginal success, as "students of color" have recently performed better on AP tests than they had in years past, the Post reported. However, the Post did not specify which racial groups had begun performing better or whether students attending race-based AP courses had outperformed those taking AP courses with students of all races.

Of ETHS' approximately 3,600 students, 25% are black and 20% are Latino, but the affinity courses do not appear to be very popular among those groups. Just one out of every seven Latino students and one out of every nine black students at ETHS has taken an affinity course.

Since the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, federal law has strictly prohibited racial segregation in public schools, and many legal scholars have cried foul about the practices in Evanston, as well as similar practices in Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, and Oakland. David Bernstein of George Mason Law School called such race-based courses "blatantly unconstitutional." "There is no way that could possibly pass legal muster if someone sued," he added.

However, the Wall Street Journal indicated in its reporting late last month that affinity courses may not violate the law because they are voluntary. "Federal antidiscrimination laws prevent public schools from mandatorily separating students by race, but education lawyers say optional courses can comply with the law," the outlet wrote, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

The district also noted that affinity courses are no longer "restricted" to members of certain racial groups. "If push came to shove and you look at the master schedule, and a kid needs calculus that period and there’s nothing else that works and that kid is white, of course we’ll put them in the affinity class," Superintendent Campbell claimed, focusing on the logistics of student scheduling and overcrowding rather than issue of racial discrimination.

ETHS course descriptions currently say that affinity classes are "open to all students" but are "intended to support students who identify as 'latinx' or 'black,'" the Evanstonian reported back in August.

The issue also extends beyond race-based classes. The Evanston Township school board has made ending overall disparities in racial achievement outcomes its stated goal: "Recognizing that racism is the most devastating factor contributing to the diminished achievement of students, ETHS will strive to eliminate the predictability of academic achievement based upon race."

This move by the school board should come as no surprise, as the city of Evanston has made several attempts in the last few years to eradicate racism by governmental fiat. In 2019, the city council declared Evanston to be "an anti-racist city." Two years later, Evanston became the first city in America to approve reparation payments for black people.

Despite these overtures, black students have still struggled academically. "Our black students are, for lack of a better word — and I hate using this word, but they are at the bottom and they are being outperformed constantly," school board vice president Monique Parsons said last month. "It’s not good. We’re always chasing this and trying to figure it out."

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Cortney Weil

Cortney Weil

Sr. Editor, News

Cortney Weil is a senior editor for Blaze News. She has a Ph.D. in Shakespearean drama, but now enjoys writing about religion, sports, and local criminal investigations. She loves God, her husband, and all things Michigan State.
@cortneyweil →