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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

School Desegregation News Roundup 2-20-18: School Secession Updates - the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to begin featuring the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.  

There was big news in the school segregation world, and good news at that! In case you haven’t seen: a federal appeals court blocked a majority white community (Gardendale, AL) from seceding from a majority black community (Jefferson County) and forming its own school district.

The Gardendale secession has been a topic of earlier roundups (see here & here) and of course was covered extensively by Nikole Hannah-Jones in the NY Times magazine. For those unfamiliar, here’s a summary from a recent Mother Jones article:
  • “Last April, US District Court Judge Madeline Haikala ruled that although majority-white Gardendale’s attempt to break away from majority-black Jefferson County was racially motivated, the new district could start to run two elementary schools and eventually purchase a high school from the county if, among other things, it created a court-approved desegregation plan within three years.”
The district court judge acknowledged that the secession was racially motivated and allowed it to happen anyway. The federal appeals court decision (full text here) reverses the district level ruling, arguing that the secession violates of a desegregation order that’s been in place since 1971. Jefferson County’s order was the result of litigation in 1965 - we’re still fighting over litigation that is more than 50 years old. Unlike many American communities, Jefferson County’s desegregation order is still in place, and it was the deciding factor here.

Gardendale will now appeal. Here’s what the school board president said:
  • “The Gardendale Board of Education is deeply grieved and disappointed by the opinion of the three-judge panel refusing to allow us to operate our own city schools in Gardendale. We believe our actions have always reflected only our desire to form a new, welcoming, and inclusive school system to help schoolchildren and parents succeed, and we will continue to fight to achieve this by seeking further review in the federal courts.”
The flyer depicted here (source: Michael Harriot’s article in The Root) was created by a white parent organizing group that led the secession effort. For Jefferson County locals, the racial message is overt: it lists four predominantly black communities (the ones at the top) and then the four predominantly white communities at the bottom are described as “some of the best places to live in the country.”

Despite the good news here, secession is a nationwide issue and it continues. Here’s a recent article from North Carolina, where “state lawmakers will begin studying next week how to break up North Carolina school districts, potentially paving the way for splitting large school systems like Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg.” This is especially damaging in the South - as Nikole Hannah-Jones noted on Twitter:
  • “Countywide school systems are what have allowed the South to be the most integrated part of the country for four decades” because “up North you can avoid integration by moving to an all-white town that operates its all-white school system. In the South with its countywide school systems, you can move to all-white town and still have to send your kid to school w black kids from the city.” 
This is perhaps one of the reasons Jones has said that “white folks have to fix segregation.” Along these lines, there were a few thoughtful pieces this week on the role that white families can play in pushing back against the social/parenting norms that reinforce segregated schooling. This article from Courtney Everts Mykytyn, the founder of Integrated Schools, is a personal reflection on the decision to send her two children to integrated schools. Among other things, she notes:
  • “Learning how to find our common humanity through shared experience is a gift and living outside of a privilege-segregated bubble makes this possible.”
And this article from On Being tackles a major issue that helps lock segregation in place: the problem of exclusively prioritizing the best outcome for one's own kids. The article argues that progressive parents should live their values:
  • “I’m starting to grasp just how much parenting is a place where our values are most powerfully demonstrated, despite the fact that we publicly pretend as if it should be apolitical.”
The On Being article is a part of a series that will unfold over the next few months. To that end, the author solicits feedback from others “who have made radical decisions outside of social norms, like sending your children to low-performing neighborhood public schools rather than pursuing more privileged options.” She asks: “Do you ultimately stand by your decisions? What did you learn? How have your kids, your neighborhoods, your social worlds been affected?” If you are inclined, you can reach out at stories@onbeing.org.

Many news outlets covered the Gardendale decision; that coverage is collected below.