The Department of Education's "Letter of Finding" and SCOTUS
Evanston's tiny role in a controversial decision made by the Supreme Court last week
I avoid national political debates on this Substack because it’s exhausting and there are limitless other places you can read such content. However, it is worth noting the small role that Evanston/Skokie District 65 had in the Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action. The case is Students for Fair Admissions vs Harvard.
In May 2022, a conservative group, the Mountain States Legal Foundation wrote an amici curiae brief to the Court regarding Students for Fair Admissions vs Harvard. You can read the brief. The brief argues in favor of ending affirmative action. I assume this brief was at least read by clerks for the Justices writing the decision.
The Letter of Finding & SCOTUS Brief
The Mountain States’ brief references a “Letter of Finding”, authored by a career bureaucrat at Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR Letter details multiple ways District 65 violated the law in the Beyond Diversity Training offered in years 2018-19. You can read the undated letter.
The OCR Letter was subsequently revoked after inauguration in January 2021. I requested records from the Department of Education relating to this letter February 2023 and they’ve basically iced me. I’ve contacted a lawyer to litigate to get these records.
Anyway, back to the ruling. The Mountain States’ brief uses District 65 as the main case for why the court needed to end affirmative action. The thesis of their argument is regarding the above OCR letter;
After President Biden took office, however, a spokesperson for the Department of Education confirmed that the investigation into Evanston/Skokie School District has been suspended, “pending its reconsideration of the case in light of the executive orders on racial equity issued by President Biden.”
In other words, what Amici determined to be a textbook example of race discrimination against teachers and students—a matter so egregious that it was highlighted in OCR’s 2020 Annual Report to Congress—the Biden Administration instead found to be a potentially lawful approach to racial equity. This turn-about on a high-profile OCR enforcement determination is unusual in OCR’s history to say the least.
Financially, these Diversity training sessions were not cheap; if you sum up the totals for the Pacific Educational Group (who creates the Beyond Diversity Training) and at least two of the consultants who ran the sessions, the District paid around half a million dollars in years 2018-19 alone (0.2% of the overall annual district budget)
We’re now five years out and can ask - has the investment in these resources been successful for the District’s children? I don’t know. I’m open to hearing about positive outcomes.
The costs have been non-trivial, though;
The District was sued by a teacher related to the training and that case is still ongoing (although, I think the District will win).
The District was found in violation of the law by DoE, and then that was magically revoked, providing a tidy argument for conservative legal scholars in a major Supreme Court case overturning affirmative action.
More than half a million dollars was paid in school years 2018-2019 alone for just the facilitators and materials for facilitators.
I haven’t seen evidence to suggest the achievement gap has narrowed.
I’m not arguing that we should stop investing in diversity, inclusion or equity but I think we need to step back and assess whether this approach1 is the right way to get there. It certainly feels like we picked a fight, lost the fight, and paid a bunch of money for the right to do so.
It has been successful for the consultants, though. The same consultants hired by District 65 in 2018-19 are now working with ETHS, for instance. The ugly redactions2 in that document are mine, the above document was not sourced via a FOIA from me - I found it online by googling, so I can’t vouch for authenticity. I did FOIA some documents from ETHS, but they are less complete.
Other districts hiring the same consultant and materials in 2022-23 include: Maine Township (D207), New Trier (D203), East Maine (D63), Hillside (D93), Northfield (D225), Niles Township (D113), among others.
Note on Comment Section
For the love of God, please do not poison the comment section into arguments about affirmative action. If you have a comment that is relevant to the story, feel free to chime in but don’t use my space to shitpost about national politics. If it gets too bad, I’ll turn the comments off. I think Freddie deBoer, a favorite writer of mine, I think, has the best coverage on the decision itself, so I refer my readers to his substack.
By “this approach” I mean investing a lot of resources in controversial consultants, facilitators, and one-time use materials. Have we seen evidence that things such as affinity groups or privilege walks moved the needle on anything?
If anyone knows of a good tool to do redactions, please let me know.