SD News Roundup: The lines that divide, part 2

Part 1 of the roundup, published yesterday, looked at recent school integration debates in Austin, TX and Wake County, NC. This post summarizes similar activity in Sausalito, Oakland, nearby Baltimore, Charleston, SC and Richmond, VA.  

As I note in the first post, these stories give disproportionate space to pushback from angry opposition, often from white parents. This is consistent with how desegregation efforts were covered roughly a half century ago (!) in the desegregation efforts of the 60’s and 70’s. Although parent opposition surely still exists, it’s not everything. Examples of parental and community support for integration have always existed as well, and they continue in the places highlighted in these posts, even if those efforts only get a few short lines in the news coverage. 

On the plus side, the stories do emphasize that school district leaders are using their offices as a sort of bully pulpit to promote the benefits of school integration. This indeed is a long way from district administrators of the 1970’s who deliberately crafted chaotic desegregation plans in an effort to stoke public anger. Support from district leaders is still far too scarce, but it’s nonetheless a source of hope.

I’ve made an effort in the summaries to cover the most important details without getting too lengthy. If you have more info about any of the stories here or on similar efforts that haven’t gotten news coverage, please feel free to reach out on twitter or in comments. 

Sausalito, CA – DOJ investigation and school pairing

In the second round of Democratic primary debates, Joe Biden criticized Kamala Harris for not pursuing any school integration cases when she was the attorney general of California. For one thing, it’s extremely rare for a state attorney general to do this. But, more to the point- her office did actually start a case in Sausalito Marin City, and that just recently came to a conclusion. (I’ve been surprised that the Harris campaign hasn’t been more vocal in taking credit for this.)

This New York Times story has key details on the case. In particular, the state’s Justice Department found that the segregation between a charter school in a white enclave and a nearby (and overwhelmingly Black and Latinx) public school violated the equal protection clause of the state constitution. The investigation uncovered clear evidence of intentional racial discrimination: 

  • “At a district meeting in 2012, a district trustee, who is not named in court papers, “admitted that the plan to create separate programs for Sausalito and Marin City was motivated by a desire to create separate programs for separate communities,” according to the complaint. “This trustee also expressed it would improve community relations if students in Marin City were not ‘shipped over’ to Sausalito.””
  • “In court papers, the attorney general said that the district had systematically starved the school it ran of resources.” This short radio piece claims that the former school board “terminated math, science and reading programs at the school which primarily serves students of color.”

The settlement establishes a committee of students, parents, teachers and community leaders to help craft a desegregation plan and the two schools have each passed resolutions to explore a pairing. The radio piece also has a bit about parent reaction, which includes this common refrain of integration opponents: “we’re doing something right and we just keep getting penalized for it.”

Oakland – School pairing

Across the bay, the school board in Oakland recently announced a plan to pair two elementary schools. Many of the themes resonate with the stories across these two posts. As noted in this KQED story

  • “Kaiser (39% Black and Latinx) and Sankofa (79%) are only about three miles away from each other, but in many respects the two schools are leagues apart.” At Sankofa, only 4% met state math standards last year and it was less than 8% for ELA. 
  • An example parent comment: “To merge Kaiser with any school and rip that fabric apart brings up a mix of real deep sorrow and loss, and then anger turning to creativity about how we’re not going to allow that to happen.”

Though, there is one difference from the other stories- a literal ticket out for families opposed to the pairing:

  • “According to the district, Kaiser parents who don’t want to send their kids to the merged school may be able to take advantage of a policy being considered by the school board — what’s being called an “opportunity ticket” that would give them priority enrollment at a school of their choice.”

Baltimore area – Attendance zone changes

This story, though new and less-covered, also echoes the theme of support for integration among district leaders. Specifically, three County Council members signed a letter asking the superintendent to “comprehensively address the socioeconomic and racial segregation in Howard County Public Schools through a meaningful redistricting process.” They charged that: 

  • “Currently school district boundaries in Howard County are drawn in a manner that concentrate students participating in the Free and Reduced Meals program [FARMS] into certain elementary, middle, and high schools.”

Update: I found a few new articles on this story after initially posting about it last week. This story has more details about the Superintendent’s rezoning proposal, which focuses specifically on socio-economic balance:

  • “The county average of student populations enrolled in FARMs is 22.5%. Martirano’s recommendations look to have all schools with high overall FARMs rates reduced and to move many schools closer to the county’s average.”
  • “At the elementary level, Martirano is proposing for no school to have a FARMs rate higher than 54%; for middle schools the rate would become no higher than 45%; and at the high school level, the FARMs level would be 42% or lower under the recommendations.”

Meanwhile, this story covers parental response to the plan. Like many of the articles in this post, it focuses heavily on parental opposition. And, it actually includes a link to a website that was created by opponents to offer guidance about race-neutral messaging. For example:

  • a reference to a long bus ride is acceptable, any reference to forced busing is not.
  • “I love my school” is acceptable while “I don’t want to go to <fill in the blank> school” is not.

That said, the article actually goes further than most in acknowledging support for school integration. Quoting a parent who’s child attends an integrated school in the district:

  • “What our kids say is that they are better prepared to be in a diverse university environment,” said Leslie. “They are able to work in groups better. They are able to work with a range of people.”

Charleston – School pairings

The Charleston County School Board will soon vote on a number of proposals that are designed “to integrate and end racial disparities at its mostly black and underperforming schools.” Among the recommendations is a pairing similar to those described across this roundup. And, like the cities highlighted here, the district has come out strongly in favor of school integration. As noted in this article:

  • In a recent and blunt video message to the community, Charleston schools Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait said: “There are far too many children, particularly of color and poverty, who have been disserved by the system. … We have to have the courage and the will to do something about it.”

Richmond, VA – Attendance zone changes and school pairing

Last June, Richmond released a draft of changes to school attendance zones that also included pairing a majority Black elementary school with a majority white school less than two miles away. Subsequent plans have included even more pairing options. This article has a great discussion of the history leading up to the changes informed by Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who’s published a lot on school integration efforts and has a great piece on benefits for white students.

A school rezoning committee composed of community stakeholders worked hard to push the district to pursue school pairing options as a way to increase school diversity. The city is expecting to receive a cost estimate for the rezoning/pairing plan by the end of September, and the school board is expected to vote on the plan by the end of the calendar year.    

District leaders have supported the committee’s work, despite pushback from parents. As noted in the article, parents submitted anonymous comments on the merger proposal (known as option 2): 

  • Some parents were forceful in anonymous written comments submitted to the school system, which included threats to leave the school district: “If option 2 is passed, I know that I, along with many other neighbors, would carefully weigh the decision of whether to send my children to private school or to move out of the district for a better elementary school option for our family.”

A related piece from Kimberly Bridges, also a professor a Virginia Commonwealth University and former Richmond school board chair, looks at the history of parental reaction to similar decisions in Richmond and elsewhere. In the piece, she points out a too-often untold story: after a 2013 rezoning effort that led to increased segregation, many parents came out in favor of school integration and have since been active on this issue. 

Kimberly calls for massive persistence in the face of what superintendent Jason Kamras has termed Massive Resistance 2.0. Like many of the other district leaders in the posts this week, Kamras has made it a point to forcefully support integration in his response to parents:   

  • “It is fair to make critiques of the proposal but what is not fair from my perspective is critiques that are masquerading as critiques when they’re really resisting the ultimate goal, which is integration.”

In addition, neighboring Henrico County is also in the process of adjusting its attendance zones. As Kimberly highlights here, that district is segregated from east to west according to race and socio-economic status. Although Henrico county doesn’t include Richmond, it is very much connected to the city’s racial history. Part of a trend in suburban school segregation, Henrico does include first-ring Richmond suburbs that are rapidly diversifying and, in the process, raising challenges related to racial equity in the county’s schools. 

I emailed Kimberly about this, and her summary sheds light on the part of the story often left out of media coverage: “While the ongoing patterns are frustrating to observe, I’m also encouraged by voices on the other side. I see growth in Richmond in terms of support for diverse schools and understanding of our systemic and historical challenges related to racial segregation.” (It was also the conversation with Kimberly that encouraged me to use the term “school pairing” instead of “school merger.”)

Supporters and grassroots activists for integration are out there, and their numbers are growing. It’s well past time for the media coverage to move beyond a framing that is many decades old and to make room for more hopeful stories of those who are working for school integration.

3 thoughts on “SD News Roundup: The lines that divide, part 2

  1. Pingback: SD News Roundup: The lines that divide, part 1 | School Diversity Notebook

  2. Pingback: New Project & Data Request: Attendance zone boundary changes | School Diversity Notebook

  3. Pingback: New Research: School Rezoning Processes & Outcomes | School Diversity Notebook

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