Monday, September 17, 2007

Does Rezoning Mean Resegregation?

This may be the case in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a racially mixed city where some say segregation is alive and well.

As a result of the recent public school overcrowding, city authorities decided on a rezoning plan to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, this left hundreds of students to the mercy of "virtually all-black, low performing schools" reads a New York Times piece by Sam Dillon, and many black parents calling foul, especially considering that the school's superintendent and board president are white, yet 75% of the public school system is black.

Tuscoloosa's rezoning project, while raceless on paper, is being administered via the same justification found in the recent reversal of the Brown v. Board of Education decision (which I covered here in July) and the somewhat faulty No Child Left Behind program, both of which are considered to be essential in what is fast becoming a race-blind America. Yet for some parents and local black leaders, the situation is a haunting flashback:

All the issues we dealt with in the 60s, we're having to deal with again in 2007," said Earnestine Tucker, one of the black members [of the Board of Education]. We're back to separate but equal - but separate isn't equal."
Some of the students feel it too:

Telissa Graham, 17, was a sophomore last year at Northridge High. She learned of the plan last May by reading a notice on her school’s bulletin board listing her name along with about 70 other students required to move. “They said Northridge was too crowded,” Telissa said. “But I think they just wanted to separate some of the blacks and Hispanics from the whites.”

Ironically, as the article notes, the parents of Tuscaloosa have co-opted the No Child Left Behind Act, which its critics consider to be detrimental to the process of improving the health of public schools as it, in fewer words, places more importance on a student's selective school re-assignment on a case-by-case basis, as opposed to focusing on the poor schools themselves. The parents have argued that they have no other choice than using the act a means of securing a better future for their children, many of whom, as a result of the residential rezoning, have limited access to the educational opportunity they once experienced via busing. Thus far, 180 students have requested to transfer from schools that have received poor scores in the evaluation system used by No Child Left Behind, but their present status is pending, much like their hopes for a better future in the highly racially divided Tuscaloosa.

Critics could easily say, however, that parental involvement for black student came a little too late. White parents beat them to the punch, helping to initiate the program with which they are at odds:

At a meeting in February 2005, scores of parents from the two majority white elementary schools complained of overcrowding and discipline problems in the middle school their children were sent to outside of the northern enclave.

Ms. Tucker said she, another board member and a teacher were the only blacks present. The white parents clamored for a new middle school closer to their homes. They also urged Dr. Levey to consider sending some students being bused into northern cluster schools back to their own neighborhood, Ms. Tucker said. Dr. Levey did not dispute the broad outlines of Ms. Tucker’s account.

“That was the origin of this whole rezoning,” Ms. Tucker said.

Months later, the school board commissioned a demographic study to draft the rezoning plan. J. Russell Gibson III, the board’s lawyer, said the plan drawn up used school buildings more efficiently, freeing classroom space equivalent to an entire elementary school and saving potential construction costs of $10 million to $14 million. “That’s a significant savings,” Mr. Gibson said, “and we relieved overcrowding and placed most students in a school near their home. That’s been lost in all the rhetoric.”

Could re-segregation have been avoided by way of parental involvement?

Possibly. But without the tax money to back up the words, very little can be done to change a public education system on the brink of ruin. As socialist as it may sound, we, as a nation, will continue to segregate it's young people until one's income bracket no longer corresponds to the availability of local, high-quality, public schools. Due to the very obvious links between color and class, some children will inevitably always be left behind.

-Wendi Muse

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