While the Civil Rights era made tremendous strides in fighting for equality, could segregation still be plaguing our public schools five decades later?
In April, a federal judge found that a Mississippi school district was “flagrantly” violating a desegregation court order, and the Walthall County school district has been ordered to change its attendance policies, as reported by ABC News. Unfortunately, this report is not the first to appear about a southern school in the throes of resegregation accusations.
Is segregation returning to our public education system? Perhaps it is time to take a closer look at the policies surrounding our schools to find out.
A Brief History
The history of government involvement in desegregation only goes back about half a century. In 1954, the Brown vs. Board of Education case resulted in the Supreme Court's decision that "racially segregated schools" were "inherently unequal." The following year, the Court outlined a plan for racial desegregation, with orders for segregated schools to make the appropriate changes "with all deliberate speed."
However, some schools did not make the necessary adjustments very expeditiously, and in 1969, the Court came out with another ruling to push the desegregation process along. Alexander vs. Holmes County Board led to the Court requiring schools to desegregate right away and to operate in the future only as "unitary" schools.
Since the Alexander vs. Holmes County Board decision, schools have worked toward desegregation in all areas of the country. Unfortunately, the process has not been met without undue opposition from many, demonstrating that legislation could only go so far in changing hearts and minds. Still, diversity reigned for a number of decades, providing students with a broader educational spectrum and theoretically offering more equal educational opportunities to all children.
However, times are changing once again. The Mississippi school district in question today, Walthall County, has been investigated by the Justice Department since November 2007, due to questions about both clustered schools and clustered classrooms. These clusters reportedly changed the racial makeup of schools and classrooms, concentrating more white children in some areas, while creating nearly all-black schools and classes in others.
The reason for the racial shift is allegedly due to transfer policies that liberally allow parents of white children to move their students to other schools in predominantly white areas. According to prosecutors, the "district annually permits over 300 transfer students – the vast majority of whom are white to attend Salem Attendance Center even though they reside in the Tylertown attendance zone." This process has resulted in "a racially identifiable white school" outside of the home district and Tylertown schools that have become "predominantly black."
North Carolina's Drift
Mississippi isn't the only area where resegregation has become a concern. According to a report on Chicago Defender, two North Carolina school boards have also fallen into scrutiny.
New Hanover County and Wake County have been the locations of debates between parents and administrators over rezoning rules within the districts that would result in more segregated schools based on neighborhood demographics. Despite the real concern of many parents, educators and school board members about the detrimental effects such changes would produce, there is a strong support base for such rezoning to take place.
Dangers of Segregation
According to experts in the field of education, separating school populations based on race may have very detrimental effects to all of the students involved. In his 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, "We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment."
The Washington Post reported on a federal court decision two years ago that prohibited voluntary local efforts to integrate schools. In this story, the Post cites research from a leading U.S. research center that shows a trend toward resegregation "damages the prospects for non-white students and will likely have a negative impact on the U.S. economy." The Chicago Defender cites input from Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles. Orfield states that "segregation is not good for any of our children."
Just this month, District Court Judge Tom S. Lee issued an order for policies of Walthall County school district that lead to segregation to be reversed. Judge Lee also called for more oversight and specific guidelines governing transfer requests. The Walthall school district will now be watched to ensure that new policies are put into place to reverse segregation once and for all – and we hope that segregation does not rear its ugly head in America’s schools again.
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