SIMMONS: Equality in education happening much too slowly

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The Supreme Court acknowledged in 1954 that not all public schools were created equal and desegregation plans were subsequently ordered to be implemented with “all deliberate speed.”

Yet here we are, 58 years later at the start of a new school year, and not all public schools and school policies are created equal.

Why?

For the same reasons that led to the court’s unanimous decision in 1954, that is to say too few choices.

In the District, for example, critics of choice rail against public charter schools and scholarships financed with public dollars, options poor families didn’t have prior to and in the immediate decades following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.

More problematic is the fact that latter-day education policies have resurrected discriminatory practices by using lotteries, ZIP codes, redrawing of school boundaries and instituting sibling preferences — as if familial legacy is a constitutional right to attend a public school.

How did we get here?

Quotas, which were intended to solve the racial balance, instead created convoluted and expensive school-busing mazes. Then, school officials began using ZIP codes and redrawing boundaries, tools that determine funding and other resources and further exacerbate the imbalance. The newest follies — lotteries, class size, preferences and sibling legacies — leave racial and ethnic minorities searching for Superman and a latter-day saint.

Follow me through this tangled web of race-based madness.

Just last week, a federal court in Memphis, Tenn., began settling a 47-year-old desegregation case that mandates the Fayette County school district implement a “controlled choice program” that includes racial quotas among the student body and workforce, encourages majority-to-minority student transfers, and orders the school district close two schools, open a new school and ensures “racial diversity standards” by allowing families to rank their school preferences.

This next one, as subtle as the stripes on a zebra, is being played out under President Obama’s nose.

In the nation’s capital, parents who want their children to attend a non-neighborhood school must first seek special permission via a lottery held by the school system and then solicit a wink and a nod from administrators at the school. Students who live within a school’s boundaries and have a sibling attending the school are bumped to the head of the line, while students who live within walking distance of their preferred school can be denied enrollment.

But even if a non-neighborhood child is admitted, the words “all are welcome” are not written with indelible ink. For example, the Capitol Hill Cluster School uses boldface type to stress on its website that “10 unexcused absences and 20 unexcused tardies can result in the student being sent back to their neighborhood school at the end of the school year.”

That more-likely-than-not-neighborhood school is of the separate-but-unequal variety in a predominately black neighborhood, where most of the children get free or reduced-price lunches and other government handouts.

Another exhibit, this one courtesy of Louisiana, is in Avoyelles Parish, where schools do not seem to racially measure up with several benchmarks, including extracurricular activities.

Indeed, U.S. District Judge Dee D. Drell signaled last week that he will take into consideration a complaint that black cheerleader and majorette selections are not being judged as fairly as their white counterparts because the black girls were not evaluated by their peers at black colleges.

Interestingly, if it weren’t for choice, New Orleans’ public school system would still be in shambles after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. As things stand now, New Orleans has more charter schools than any other U.S. school district.

And, while the District ranks No. 2 with charters, those schools are fighting for not only public dollars and closed school buildings but playgrounds and athletic facilities, too.

Like the Dixiecrats back in the day, the anti-choice Democratic practices of today, like those supported by the Obama administration and the D.C. mayor’s administration, reflect the new segregationists.

Race-based school policies, however thinly veiled, breathed new life into Jim Crow and effectively re-created de facto school segregation.

Tsk, tsk, tsk.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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