News Roundup- Late April: Segregation in Alabama, NYC Zoning and Local Stories

A judge that allows segregation? White liberals choosing against integration? Segregation orders from a school principal? It’s all in the late April news roundup. Here’s the links and summaries to the best/most relevant I could find:

Legal Segregation in Jefferson County, Alabama

As noted in an earlier post, “splintering” is a popular current vehicle for school segregation. Essentially- larger county school districts separate into smaller districts according to race and/or income. In a series of articles published last week, a district judge reviewed such a plan in Jefferson County, Alabama (home to Birmingham), recognized it’s racial intent, and allowed it proceed. I found the coverage of this to be frustrating and (I’m thinking) incomplete. Articles mostly focused on the surprise of the judge’s decision- mainly portraying her as some combination of quixotic and baldly racist. (Here’s one headline: “Judge allows white Alabama town to return to segregation.”) To be sure, there’s no way of looking at this that’s good for integration. But, there’s an important takeaway here that gets buried in more sensational news coverage. So, here’s a brief overview:

In the ruling, the judge stated that she didn’t want black students from North Smithfield (majority black) to be treated poorly in Gardendale schools (the majority white town that wants to separate from the Jefferson County district). Currently, North Smithfield students are bused to Gardendale. This was cited as the primary rationale for letting Gardendale splinter off.

The ruling includes the following provisions :

  • The separation starts with 2 elementary schools this fall. Gardendale can run these separately from Jefferson County but it has to make a good faith effort at desegregation (ex: “allowing and paying for transfer students and appointing a black member to the all-white city school board”).
  • If it makes such an effort in three years, it’ll be allowed to run a separate middle school and high school; if not, the ruling can be rescinded.
  • Regardless of its progress towards desegregation, Gardendale “would have to pay Jefferson County” for a new high school that’s estimated at about $50 million. I wish there were more details about this in the media coverage.

For me, the story here is not that there’s a rogue judge who allowed segregation, but that the decision institutes a watered-down version of integration that is mostly allowed to happen on Gardendale’s terms, rather than requiring them to implement the policies that were already in place (that they didn’t like). One thing that comes out strongly in the Ansley T. Erickson book is how desegregation efforts can unfold on white people’s terms. It also sort of seems like Gardendale can buy its way out of the current integration policy by paying for an expensive high school- again another privilege of being a wealthy white community. None of this is good for integration, but the story of persistent systematic white privilege is more important and appears to be more accurate than the narrative that this was the decision of one radical judge. 

NYTimes on White Families and School Zoning

A recent article in the New York Times answers the question of how segregation still happens in NYC by focusing on the disproportionate rate at which white parents choose schools outside of their zoned public school. It follows a white family that is ambivalent about making this very decision. On twitter, I’ve seen this article used as evidence that integration will essentially never happen, because white families won’t go for it. I think the article is vague enough to leave itself open to this interpretation. That said, I took away something different. To me, what was most important was the mix of city policy and popular mythology (about test scores) that leads to segregation. Imagine what would could be accomplished if integration was actually the goal of policy AND if people talked more openly about the myths that keep segregation in place.

Misc Local Stories

  • Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN: Updating an item from the early April roundup, the Minnesota Supreme Court will hear a suit challenging that segregated schools violate the adequacy clause in the state constitution.
  • North Carolina: This post from NC Policy Watch summarizes a few charter school bills proposed in the NC House of Representatives. I’m including it here because it includes a useful summary of the bills, but I have a few quibbles. The articles says that research has only reached a consensus about school integration “in recent years” – we’ve actually had solid evidence of integration’s benefits for a long time. And, it says that research on the impact of charters on segregation is “divided.” Instead, there is a large and growing body of research that strongly links charter schools to increased segregation.
  • St. Petersburg, FL: A principal was fired after sending a letter to staff stating that on class rosters “white students should be in the same class.” In a tie-in with the DOE update below, the same district is currently being evaluated by the Office of Civil Rights for disproportionate discipline of black students.

DOE Update

There was also a much longer investigation of zoning and inequity in NYC public schools published in the Atlantic last week. I’m saving this one for its own post- hoping to have the time soon. In the meantime, let me know what I missed!

2 thoughts on “News Roundup- Late April: Segregation in Alabama, NYC Zoning and Local Stories

  1. Pingback: News Roundup- Early June: Resegregation trends, public support for integration, and the NYC diversity plan | School Desegregation Notebook

  2. Pingback: News Roundup- Early June: Resegregation trends, public support for integration, and the NYC diversity plan –

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