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Recognizing Youth Leadership in Civil Liberties and Human Rights: Rufus King Graduate Receives Award

27 Jun

Congrats to recent Rufus King High School graduate Zach Komes. During his high school career, Zach was a leader at his school and in the Milwaukee community in civil rights and human rights education and activism. To recognize his work, he received this year’s Jackie Yang Human Rights and Civil Liberties Award.

Zach Komes receives the Jackie Yang Human Rights and Civil Liberties Award

“Participating in the Amnesty International Chapter and the ACLU Student Alliance at Rufus King High School as Student Coordinator for two years has been one of the best times of my life,” said Komes. “From promoting important issues through workshops and movie screenings to direct action campaigns like letter writing, vigils, and marches, our ACLU student alliance has done great work.

“It was a great honor to receive the Jackie Yang Human Rights and Civil Liberties Award at our chapter’s annual banquet.  Jackie Yang, who founded our chapter in 2009 and who also worked in the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Madison Area Office last semester, is an example of true leadership and dedication to civil liberties. Receiving this award in her name is very humbling. I am very excited to what our chapter does in the future under the leadership of new co-coordinators James Elias and Mary Poppings! The Amnesty International/ACLU Chapter at Rufus King will continue to work for justice and progress in our community, nation, and world!”

The Amnesty International Chapter at Rufus King High School is committed to engaging students in international human rights issues. Human rights standards such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guide students’ research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination. The group partners with the ACLU Student Alliance to work on domestic civil rights and constitutional protection issues.

The ACLU of Wisconsin is looking forward to seeing Zach continue to be a leader in the work to defend individual rights. Want to find out if there is an ACLU Student Alliance at your school? Want to start one? Contact us at youth@aclu-wi.org to find out more.

I ♥ Boobies! Bracelet Ban Stays in Place: WI District Court Denies End to Sauk Prairie Ban

8 Feb

This week a federal district court judge denied a request by the ACLU of Wisconsin and cooperating attorneys to end a ban on “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelets at the Sauk Prairie Middle School. The decision described “I Boobies!” as a “vulgar and sexually provocative statement” despite the educational context of the Keep A Breast foundation’s national campaign.

We blogged about this lawsuit last year when the lawsuit was originally filed. We asserted that student free speech should include the right to wear these breast cancer awareness bracelets. “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelets are a part of a national campaign by the Keep A Breast Foundation. The rubber bracelets are similar to other bracelets that promote awareness of health or social issues and are geared to educate young women about the need for breast cancer research, education and early detection of the disease.

“Our middle school client is dedicated to effectively and constructively educating her peers about breast cancer,” said Attorney Tamara Packard. “It is disappointing that this decision will leave in place a ban on student speech that conveys our plaintiff’s belief that breast cancer is a critical women’s health issue of our time. The very purpose of the bracelets is to educate other young people about cancer prevention, testing, research and treatment.”

While the decision recognizes that students’ rights to free expression must be protected, it leaves too much discretion in the hands of school boards and administrators to punish controversial student expression by relying on a too-subjective and vague definition of “vulgar, offensive or inappropriate.” In the future, schools may punish students arbitrarily based on nothing more than a hypersensitive principal’s “I know it when I see it” notion of vulgarity rather than on an objective standard for free speech.

The Wisconsin suit was filed in September, 2011 on behalf of a middle school student at Sauk Prairie Middle School who along with many classmates wore an “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelet to school for months without incident before the school district banned them. Last year, a federal district court in Pennsylvania stopped a ban on the bracelets and issued an opinion that the bracelets could not be considered lewd or vulgar. In B.H. v. Easton Area School District decision, as in the Sauk Prairie M. S., school officials failed to present evidence that the bracelets had or would cause a disruption at the school. The Pennsylvania case is facing an appeal by the school district. The ACLU of Wisconsin and the Sauk Prairie student plaintiff are evaluating their appeal options in the Wisconsin case.

You can read our press release on this decision on our website. You can also download and read the full U.S. District Court for Western District of Wisconsin ruling on K. J. vs. Sauk Prairie Middle School. This issue was covered in the Baraboo News Republic and the Wisconsin State Journal (while the text and author of the articles are the same, the comments sections of the stories are lively). The same week as the Wisconsin decision, the ACLU of Indiana filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of a Monticello, IN student. You can read more (and weigh in on the poll) in an article on the Huffington Post.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

Madison School District’s No Vote for Charter School Is a Vote Against Sex-Segregation

20 Dec

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin said that Monday night’s decision by the board of the Madison Metropolitan School District marked a rejection of sex-segregation in publicly funded schools. Sex-segregation isn’t a solution to the racial achievement gap.

From the beginning, the ACLU of Wisconsin has made it clear that sex-segregation is inherently discriminatory. Fixing the racial achievement gap in Madison and across the state is going to take an effort that is larger than one charter school. It is going to take a district-wide commitment to expanding strategies that work and that don’t rely on unproven gimmicks like separating boys and girls.

The most recent debate over whether or not the Urban League’s charter school plan would include using unionized staff was important. However we cannot let the controversy over instrumentality obscure the fact that there were many unanswered questions even after the district’s final analysis. The analysis suggested that the legality of sex-segregation in the charter plan would have to be scrutinized by attorneys and essentially deferred the issue to future decision-makers. Even in the shadow of our district’s problems with race, we cannot let gender equality be taken lightly.

Tonight’s decision reflected the deep concerns of some school officials and the state Department of Public instruction that sex-segregation would create too great a risk for discrimination and legal action.

The ACLU of Wisconsin will continue its efforts to work for racial justice in our state’s public education system. It will also investigate reports of sex-segregated public schools in other areas of Wisconsin that came to the organization’s attention through the course of the public debate over the Madison Prep proposal.

Read the ACLU of Wisconsin’s op-ed from Monday online. We wrote, “much of the recent debate leading up to Monday night’s School Board vote on the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy has focused on concerns about the school’s oversight and use of non-union staff. While those issues are certainly serious, equally troubling is the academy’s plan to separate students on the basis of sex. From both an educational and legal standpoint, segregating our kids by sex would be an egregious error that would further add insult to injury.”

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

Wisconsin Senators Move to Turn Back the Clock on Sex Ed

18 Oct

In a fast-moving piece of legislation, Senators are using Governor Walker’s special session on job creation to repeal the progress made after the passage of the 2009 Healthy Youth Act. The Healthy Youth Act raised the state standards for public school human growth and development instruction.

We just read in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that teen pregnancy rates have been declining since 2009,” said Stacy Harbaugh, Communications Strategist for the ACLU of Wisconsin. “This bill is so poorly timed. Not only does this piece of legislation not create a single job in our state, it threatens to move us backwards in building up the next generation of informed, healthy youth. We all know teens need information to make healthy and responsible decisions about sex. Parents and youth should be outraged at this legislative sabotage.”

This bill removes information on the health benefits of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections as well as a requirement for schools to identify support for victims of sexual assault. This bill requires schools to revert back to the proven failure of abstinence-until-marriage types of instruction. This bill even redefines what “medically accurate” and “age appropriate” means.

The comprehensive sexuality education model is based on evidence that when teens participate in school and community programs that stress both the importance of waiting to have sex while providing accurate, age-appropriate, medically accurate and complete information about the use of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, teens delay sex and reduce sexual risk-taking.

For all young people, but especially those who do not receive medically accurate information from their parents, church or peers, our public schools are the best places to give them nondiscriminatory facts about how to stay healthy and make responsible choices. Repealing the Health Youth Act would be a regressive move for Wisconsin’s students and public health.

Senate Bill 237 will get a hearing in the Senate Committee on Education Wednesday, October 19 at noon in room 201 SE in the Capitol. You can read ACLU of Wisconsin live tweets of the hearing @ACLUMadison.

Call your state legislators and tell them to keep comprehensive sex ed for Wisconsin students. In Madison: 266-9960; Toll-free: 1-800-362-9472

Why Does Your State Senator Want Teen Pregnancy Numbers to Go Up?

14 Oct

That would be a good question for Senators Lazich, Galloway, Grothman and Leibham as well as Representatives Thiesfeldt, Bernier, Bies, Brooks, Craig, Jacque, Kleefisch, Knodl, Kooyenga, Tom Larson, Litjens, Meyer, Nass, Nygren, Alvin Ott, Pridemore, Ripp, Spanbauer, Strachota, Stroebel, Wynn, Ziegelbauer and LeMahieu who have all signed on to a bill that would repeal the Healthy Youth Act.

On Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at noon in room 201 Southeast at the State Capitol, the Senate Education Committee will have a hearing to repeal the Healthy Youth Act, a bill passed during the Doyle Administration that raised the state standards for human growth and development curriculum in public schools. The proposal to repeal the law is so poorly timed, it’s astounding. In light of the recent news that teen birthrates in Milwaukee have plunged for the second straight year, we know that for this and other reasons comprehensive sex ed works to keep young people informed of the facts of how their bodies work and how they can protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections or unplanned pregnancy.

Why do these legislators want to roll back the clock and keep teens in the dark about the facts of life? You’ll hear a lot of myths about sex ed from so-called family values, anti-gay and anti-abortion activists on Wednesday. Read more about the myths versus the facts on our blog.

Call your state legislators and tell them to keep comprehensive sex ed for Wisconsin students. In Madison: 266-9960; Toll-free: 1-800-362-9472

Madison School Board Drug-Dog Policy Raises More Questions Than Provides Answers

27 Sep

Last night the Madison Metropolitan School District Board approved a school search policy that expanded the powers of police, upon request of school officials, to sweep the campuses of middle and high schools. The vote was 5 to 1 with a dissenting vote from Board President James Howard who expressed his concerns with the presence of police dogs in middle schools. That idea was also shared by board member Marj Passman who ultimately cast a “yes” vote despite her concerns about students’ rights.

The ACLU of Wisconsin’s Stacy Harbaugh was there to speak about the civil liberties implications of the policy. Here’s what she said:

The last time I was in front of the board to talk about the expansion of the school’s police/K9 policy, I shared some of the bad stories of poorly-written or poorly-implemented policies that prompted litigation in other schools when drug-dog searches started making news around a decade ago (read more about ACLU litigation and drug-dog opposition in New Mexico, South Dakota, South Carolina, Washington). Clearly this policy-as-written takes into consideration the mistakes of the past.

However, I feel that this proposed policy still brings up more questions than it provides answers.

1. What if it doesn’t work? Will the number of drug incidents be the only determining factor for success? Varying studies show that drug-sniffing dogs can either miss the presence of illegal drugs OR give false alerts when drugs aren’t actually present (read more in the Chicago Tribune about racial bias in the use of dog searches in traffic stops and the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth study that echoed a couple of decades of the documentation of evidence that our paper currency can trigger dog alerts due to widespread cocaine residue). What happens if students bring drugs into school that the police dogs miss or if drug use shifts to a form that is harder for drug-sniffing dogs to detect such as prescription drugs? Will students then become desensitized to the sweeps and lockdowns? Is anyone considering a sunset provision?

2. At what point will we know this is too much? What does “periodic” mean? Will articulated suspicion trigger a Principal to contact police for a K9 sweep or will they just happen on a Principal’s whim? At what point will parents and students have a right to say that the presence of police and drug dogs in their schools have gone too far?

3. Will students be targeted for further search? If a police dog alerts, will students be pulled out of class to be searched? When banned items are confiscated and an “a police investigation conducted,” will students be informed of their right to remain silent? To call a parent? To an attorney? Students don’t give up 4th and 5th Amendment rights when they go to school, but their rights aren’t written into this policy.

4. What is the complaint procedure for false alerts? Even the most well-written policies could be poorly implemented. What is the complaint mechanism for students who are targeted for embarrassing and anxiety-producing searches by school officials and possibly police officers if a dog falsely alerts to the students’ locker or vehicle?

Finally, I would like the board to find a policy that respects civil liberties and avoids the lockdown. School lockdowns should be used only in emergencies such as bomb or weapons threats. Otherwise, the lockdown is a very punitive approach that is the opposite of supportive, nurturing atmosphere our schools should be.

What would this policy look like in practice if students knew drug-dog sweeps were possible or that they had happened, but were not aware of the presence of police dogs while they were in class? How can we ensure that the classroom learning experience of students who aren’t breaking the rules remains unaffected? The other side of “deterrent” or “prevention” is intimidation. And lockdowns intimidate all students, including innocent ones.

Ultimately, what does this teach our youth about their rights?

There were about eight other people who shared their thoughts during the public comments section of the meeting. Two supportive individuals decried the increase of drugs in school and in the community. One mother who also worked as a police officer told the board that she was equally concerned about the presence of drugs in school (and the potential for gun violence that comes with drug trade) as she was that students didn’t seem to think the policy was a big deal or that there could be human bias in the decision to bring in drug dogs to schools with a more diverse student body. Other policy opponents raised questions about how students whose families with more financial resources would better survive getting busted rather than not having equal treatment in the criminal justice system.

Ultimately, the policy-as-written doesn’t present an immediate violation of student privacy rights. Hopefully the school system will do as much diligence in reporting on the impact of K9 sweeps (including keeping data on how many students are pulled out of class for additional searches even if dogs falsely alert) as they did in reporting back on their engagement strategy to gather community feedback.

At some point in the future our community will scratch its head and wonder why there are so many young people in our criminal justice system. We will ask ourselves why it seemed like a veritable school-to-prison pipeline was constructed one decision and one policy at a time. We will wonder why we sought out a law enforcement solution to eliminating drugs when trends in drug availability and abuse were so clearly tied with an increase in poverty and a decrease in access to health care (neither of which our public schools have the power to fix). And in the future, we may look admirably at other school districts’ policies that took huge risks to ease up on zero-tolerance and find commonsense solutions to addiction and criminalizing youth.

The school board’s decision was also covered on madison.com.

(Also read about what happened when a drug dog alerted to a Pennsylvania student’s car, the car was searched and the student expelled, not for drugs, but for having work-related knives locked in his vehicle - this editorial says that zero-tolerance shouldn’t mean zero thought)

Sex-Segregation in Schools is a Misguided Trend, Says Science Journal Report

23 Sep

An article debunking the research behind the trend of sex-segregated schools was published in the journal Science this week. The article explains that there is no legitimate research backing the effectiveness of sex-segregated schools and that the trend “is deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence. However “there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.”

Read a PDF of the article.

Questioning brain research, the lack of comparable studies and differences among school programs, the article says that what characteristics make a good public school lie not in sex-segregation but “the quality of the student body, demanding curricula, and many other features also known to promote achievement at coeducational schools.”

The Science journal report comes out just as the Madison Metro School District is closing in on a decision over an Urban League proposal to establish a sex-segregated charter school. The school proposal has faced criticism over its cost, lack of unionized staff and legal concerns over sex discrimination in the sex-segregated classes.

Ideally the district will find an alternative plan to make measurable steps to close the racial achievement gap by investing in public programs that are proven to work and don’t rely on sex-segregation of students, breaking teachers’ union contracts or diverting crucial funding away from local public schools. Today’s coverage of this issue can be found in the State Journal and the Cap Times.

Student Free Speech Includes “Boobies” Bracelets: Lawsuit Filed Against Sauk Prairie Middle School Bracelet Ban

8 Sep
I heart boobies bracelets

Keep A Breast Foundation's I heart Boobies Bracelets

Student free speech should include the right to wear breast cancer awareness bracelets, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation and cooperating attorneys today. The suit was filed on behalf of a middle school student at Sauk Prairie Middle School who along with many classmates wore an “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelet to school and prompted a school ban.

“While a public school can put some reasonable limits on expression that poses a credible threat of a disruption of its educational activities or school mission, the mere discomfort some may have with the bracelets’ slang language is not a justification for banning the bracelets and punishing students who wear them,” said Attorney Tamara Packard.

“I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelets are a part of a national campaign by the Keep A Breast Foundation. The rubber bracelets are similar to other bracelets that promote awareness of health or social issues and are geared to educate young women about the need for breast cancer research, education and early detection of the disease.

The Sauk Prairie Middle School had deemed the term “boobies” to be inappropriate slang for the school setting. However, the term, especially in the context of the serious issue of breast cancer awareness, is not lewd, vulgar or indecent and should be allowed as a form of free student expression.

“It is the very social stigma of discussing women’s breasts that keeps breast cancer prevention, education and research from moving forward,” said Attorney Lori Eshleman, who is also a breast cancer survivor. “When nearly 40,000 Americans will die of breast cancer this year, we should engage in a national discussion about prevention rather than suppress young women’s speech that includes the term boobies.”

This spring a federal court issued an injunction stopping a similar bracelet ban and agreed that the “boobies” bracelets were not indecent or disruptive student expression. Pennsylvania’s Easton Area School District has appealed that decision.

The lawsuit against the Sauk Prairie Middle School comes after repeated requests for the school to drop the bracelet ban were ignored and rejected. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and cooperating attorneys hope the school will rescind the ban and allow this form of student expression without further legal action.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is a non-profit civil liberties and civil rights organization working to protect the rights of Wisconsinites. Cullen Weston Pines & Bach LLP is a well-respected full-service Madison law firm with a passion for the constitutional principles upon which our nation was founded, including free speech, equal protection, and participatory democracy.  Attorney Lori Eshleman specializes in health care and disability discrimination law at Traver, Haass & Eshleman.

For more on the work of the American Civil Liberties Union and Foundation of Wisconsin, visit our webpage. You can also get news and opinion on civil liberties in Wisconsin on our Forward for Liberty blog. Find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Voucher Schools Have Created a Separate, Unequal System

20 Jun

Private voucher schools are failing Milwaukee children with disabilities. When these voucher schools ignore their obligations to educate and accommodate children with disabilities, they force Milwaukee Public Schools to pick up the slack – while giving MPS fewer resources to do so. Voucher schools’ large-scale exclusion of children with disabilities has led to a segregated environment with a disproportionate share of children with disabilities attending MPS.

Indeed, if the state Legislature and governor have their way and expand the voucher program, the separation and exclusion of children with disabilities will only get worse.

That is why civil rights groups have filed the first systemic disability discrimination claim against a voucher program, at a time when well-financed pro-voucher lobbies are pumping money into voucher expansion efforts across the nation. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and Disability Rights Wisconsin have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the voucher program and to shut down expansion as long as exclusion and segregation remain.

The ACLU and DRW have requested a federal investigation because of families like our clients. K.S., for example, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but whose doctor has not prescribed medication, was told he would not be admitted to one voucher school unless his mother medicated him anyway. His brother, S.E., who needs speech therapy services, was discouraged from even applying to a voucher school and as of the time the complaint was filed had not been admitted – even though he applied in January.

Another voucher school expelled B.J. after she had an argument with another child and without the reasonable accommodations MPS would have to give her if she was in school there. The voucher school expulsion forced her back to MPS, which, of course, must accept and educate her. These are just examples of the children that the voucher schools will not serve – not the only ones.

Separate is not equal. But separate is exactly what is occurring in Milwaukee: Voucher schools educate about 20% of Milwaukee students, but a mere 1.6% of voucher students receive services due to disabilities. That compares to the more than 19.2% of MPS students who receive special education services. If the voucher program expands, it will take more non-disabled children and the segregation of children with disabilities in MPS will inevitably increase.

Voucher supporters claim that they really serve a greater number of children with learning disabilities, but they have no proven data to support their arguments. Besides, their own numbers say they are only serving half as many children with disabilities as MPS.

Voucher supporters also talk only about serving children with learning disabilities. Meanwhile, MPS serves children with a wide range of disabilities – such as deafness, autism, cognitive delays and mental illness, as well as profoundly disabled children whose expenses the district also must absorb.

The vouchers were sold as a better alternative for all of Milwaukee’s families. But the truth is that even though they do not serve students with disabilities, voucher schools are failing Milwaukee children. Testing data released this year shows that overall MPS performs better than voucher schools.

Realizing they are losing the argument on quality, voucher supporters now try to emphasize that they educate cheaply. But the voucher schools do not just get state and local tax dollars. In fact, one of the reasons we are asking for an investigation is that the voucher schools receive millions of dollars a year in federal money and services. The receipt of federal money obligates the private schools to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws.

This failure of voucher schools to serve children with disabilities has led to the segregation of children with disabilities within MPS, while reducing resources the public school system needs to educate all students. That’s a separate – and unequal – system that cannot continue, let alone expand, in its current discriminatory form.
Courtney Bowie is senior staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union Racial Justice Program; Karyn Rotker is senior staff attorney, American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin; and Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick is managing attorney, Disability Rights Wisconsin.

This editorial was originally published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Saturday, June 18 2011A counter-opinion editorial was also published from School Choice Wisconsin which paints the federal complaint as an attack on the voucher program, but fails to adequately address the trend of increasing segregation of students with disabilities in public schools in Milwaukee which prompted the request for a federal investigation.

Gay-Straight Alliance in West Bend School Approved – But It Shouldn’t Take a Lawsuit to Support LGBT Youth

16 Jun

On Monday, the board of the West Bend School District narrowly voted in favor of allowing a Gay-Straight Alliance at their high school. The ACLU of Wisconsin was there to live-tweet from the meeting (you can see the tweets on the @ACLUofWisconsin Twitter page). Many LGBT rights advocates are applauding the victory this week. Unfortunately, the school board’s narrow vote came about, not because it was simply the right thing to do for equality and freedom of expression and association, but because a potentially costly lawsuit has forced them to acknowledge that the law is against them.

When the school board originally voted in May to not allow the club official recognition, lawyers on behalf of students who wanted to start a Gay-Straight Alliance filed a lawsuit in federal district court to overturn the board’s decision on the basis that it violated both federal equal access protections and first amendment rights.  As a public school that receives federal funding, the West Bend School District must not have policies that discriminate against students or deny them basic rights.

Students at West Bend have been trying to organize a GSA for nearly a decade but have faced one barrier after another (the legal complaint tells the students’ compelling story). It is unfortunate that it took a lawsuit for the school board to make a decision that recognizes all student clubs. But their decision could have been better. They could have voted unanimously in support of the club. They could have taken a strong public stand against discrimination and bullying.

On Monday, the West Bend School Board barely approved a decision that should have been made in support of their diverse student body back in 2000. But from this point on, we expect the best in accommodation and support for the GSA in West Bend. The West Bend School district needs a real process to not just approve but cultivate student clubs and promote leadership development in a way that is clear, fair and consistent. Teachers who champion diversity should be applauded, not criticized. Perhaps school board seats in the future will be filled by community members who represent and protect all students, rather than a narrow ideology.

The school board vote got media coverage on the AP wire, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, TMJ-4, Fox News 6 (both with video) and WISN. The Department of Education also recently reminded public schools that Gay-Straight Alliances have the right to organize.

Milwaukee Voucher Schools Discriminate Against Students with Disabilities, Allege ACLU, Disability Rights WI: Federal Investigation Requested Today

7 Jun

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, and Disability Rights Wisconsin filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division today, charging discriminatory practices in Milwaukee’s private voucher schools have led to an egregious segregation of students with disabilities. The complaint was filed against the State of Wisconsin, its Department of Public Instruction and two voucher schools. The groups say that Wisconsin has failed to hold taxpayer-funded private voucher schools accountable for serving children with disabilities, and has created a program that segregates and isolates children with disabilities.

“Twenty years of offering vouchers to attend private schools in Milwaukee have demonstrated that children with disabilities are not welcome in Milwaukee’s private schools,” said Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin. “Even worse is when these voucher schools occasionally accept children with disabilities, take their voucher funds, and then expel them without recourse leaving the family no other option than to return to Milwaukee Public Schools. In fact our complaint includes one family whose children with disabilities were not admitted to a voucher school, and another whose disabled child was kicked out of a voucher school and sent back to the public school system.”

“This failure of voucher schools to serve children with disabilities has led to the segregation of children with disabilities within Milwaukee Public Schools, while reducing resources the public school system needs to educate all students,” added Courtney Bowie, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program.

“Right now only about 1.6% of voucher students have disabilities, while 19.5% of Milwaukee Public School students do,” said Karyn Rotker, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Increasing the size of the voucher program – as the state intends to do – will only lead to even more discrimination and more segregation of children with disabilities. We hope DOJ will step in to stop that from occurring.”

Read more on the national ACLU website. This story also received coverage in the Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as well as the Huffington Post, WUWM-FM, WORT-FM‘s In Our Backyard and the 8 O’clock Buzz, Disability Scoop, The American Independent and Education Week.

Youth Social Justice Forum Gets Milwaukee Youth Talking about Equality and Free Speech

16 Nov

On Thursday November 4th, 2010, over 300 high school students came together at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee Student Union for the 11th Annual Youth Social Justice Forum.


The crowd of students, teachers and volunteers gather for the day


Students learn how to build puppets from scratch to turn their ideas into 3-D images

With the assistance of almost 80 volunteers from all over the city, including the 2010-2011 class from Public Allies Milwaukee, students actively participated in educational workshops that covered topics from “Creating Audio PSAs” for radio broadcast to “Political Cartooning and Art.” The workshops were presented by volunteers and partners from across the region.


Art Night Books artist Devin Trudell shares political cartoons

In its eleventh year of operation, the Youth Social Justice Forum has evolved from a political awareness event for Milwaukee-area youth to a premiere Social Justice Forum for education and activism for southeastern Wisconsin. The Youth Social Justice Forum increases awareness about issues that directly affect young people, offers hands-on workshops that teach youth real skills to help them raise their voices, provides experiential learning that fosters creative and collaborative thinking, and brings people together to bridge the gap between different racial and economic backgrounds.


Political expression in t-shirt form is ripped from the headlines and incorporated into a workshop


The First Amendment comes alive when students have hands-on lessons about free speech and art

In addition to the workshops, those in attendance also had the opportunity to observe a debate concerning the topic of immigration reform and then cast a ballot to vote on the debated measure using real ballots and counting machines.


City of Milwaukee ballots and tabulators give students the experience of voting


True Skool speakers discussed the history of urban art

This event would not have been a success without the participation and collaboration of many talented volunteers and facilitators. Supporting organizations and businesses include: 88.9 Radio Milwaukee, the City of Milwaukee Election Commission, Milwaukee Public Theatre, Public Allies Milwaukee, RedLine Milwaukee, True Skool, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Urban Underground and the ACLU of Wisconsin staff and friends. The countless hours spent during preparation for this event resulted in a fantastic outcome.


Public Allies Milwaukee volunteers helped the day run smoothly

Photos taken by ACLU of Wisconsin staff member Marion Ecks

View more pictures from the event on the ACLU Student Alliance HQ Facebook photo gallery
Bring the Youth Social Justice Forum or other youth rights workshops to your students or community group! For more information on next year’s event or to get news and information about our educational work with young people, sign up for updates or contact our Youth and Program Department at (414) 272-4032 x 23. Get involved!