Revisiting Selma

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will visit Selma, Alabama today where he will announce plans for a reinvigorated Office for Civil Rights to ensure equal educational opportunities for all children.

Part of the plan calls for the Education Department to open investigations, known as compliance reviews, in about 32 school districts nationwide, seeking to verify that students of both sexes and all races are getting equal access to college preparatory curriculums and to advanced placement courses. The department also plans to open similar civil rights investigations at half a dozen colleges.

In addition, the Education department intends to send letters offering guidance to virtually all of the nation’s 15,000 school districts and several thousand institutions of post-secondary education, officials said.

The letters will focus on 17 areas of civil rights concern, including possible racial discrimination in student assignments and admissions, in the meting out of discipline, and in access to resources, including qualified teachers. Other areas include possible sex and gender bias in athletics programs, as well as sexual harassment and violence.

Delivering this speech in Selma is symbolic, since it was here that 600 non-violent civil rights marchers were attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas 45 years ago on March 7, 1965, a date which is now known as Bloody Sunday. The police were attempting to block the protesters’ march from Selma to Montgomery, in support of a law outlawing discriminatory voting practices. The act, The National Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed by President Johnson in August 1965 and is considered a landmark in civil-rights legislation.

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