On February 2, 2023, the Center for Law and Education (CLE) and Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for discrimination in the admissions policies used across Massachusetts to admit or reject students applying to career vocational technical education high schools and programs. The complaint was brought on behalf of the Vocational Education Justice Coalition consisting of 20 community groups, civil rights organizations, and labor unions, as well as four individual students, against the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in allowing those local admission policies.
The policies use criteria that disproportionately screen out students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities, along with students from low-income families. The schools assign points for such criteria as middle school grades, attendance, and discipline and then admit the highest scoring students. Paul Weckstein, CLE co-director, noted “This flies directly in the face of civil rights law which explicitly prohibits a school from using such criteria for admission to a CVTE program or school unless it first demonstrates that the criteria are ‘essential to participation’ in the program. Schools have failed to validate these criteria on those terms. Nor do we believe they could do so for middle school students who are promoted and deemed ready for high school. Beyond that and regardless of the criteria, the ranking system fails altogether. It rejects students not because they lack what is ‘essential to participation’ – but instead, because of the scores of other students.”
VEJC believes that unnecessary barriers must be removed and that admissions policies must provide an equal chance of being accepted to all students deemed ready for high school who want to participate in a CVTE school or program. Thus, in the absence of other criteria that can be shown to be essential, it is calling for selection by lottery.
To read the complaint, click here.