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2019: The Year of Black and Brown Parents Escaping the Burning School House of So-Called “Integration”

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Photo Courtesy of Citizen Ed 

By Gwen Samuel

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…Happy New Year! That was the collective chant across the globe not too long ago.

Sad to say, yesterday, January 1st, 2019 marks the end of the holiday season of goodwill towards all. The gifts of love that appeared abundant since November 2018, will fade fast, especially for vulnerable children.

As the saying goes, we are back to business as usual.

While many slept in late yesterday and recouped from the new year eve celebrations, many Connecticut Black moms like me are mentally, physically and emotionally gearing up in support of the 2019 court battle Robinson v Wentzell. This is a Connecticut lawsuit that was filed in February of 2018 by several Black and Hispanic Hartford parents whose children are currently being denied access to available empty seats in high-quality magnet schools because of the color of their skin.

Yes, you read that correctly. Connecticut has a so-called “integration” law, (An Act Enhancing Educational Choices and Opportunities) that uses “unconstitutional” racial discrimination practices via racial quotas and questionable lottery systems for quality magnet schools, as a school choice option!

And no, the ends don’t justify the means. If failing schools should not be a school choice option for children, who in their right mind thinks racial discrimination in our k12 public schools is ever justified, especially as a school choice option! Yet, here we are. Sigh…

The Up Hill Battle For Parents

The Connecticut legislative session begins on January 9th. Now, In addition to all the other educational injustices, parents, especially Black and Brown, and those with children with disabilities, must get a crash course in the public policy process and get mentally prepared for a legislative fight. Parents must fight to ensure education public policy takes into account school safety, which includes bullying, sexual abuse and racial discrimination in public schools. This requires intentional, culturally responsive best practices because we all know you cannot legislate the heart.

ALL OF THIS is why we as parents and community members must always pray. It is during tough times like these that I pray and ask God for wisdom, guidance, and strength as we everyday parents fight to keep children safe and justly educated. I often find myself drawing from these scriptures: Galatians 6:9: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up and Isaiah 40:29: He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

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Photo Courtesy of Citizen Ed


So-Called “Integration” is the Elephant in Connecticut’s Classrooms

Now, some Black and white folks alike, from across the country, have asked me on numerous occasions “why would I or any black parent, in their right mind, oppose any type of school integration effort” after the historical 1954 Brown v Board of Education of Topeka decision paved the way for Black children to attend school with white children.

As I sigh deeply with weariness creeping through my bones, my response is clear. There is an un-sanitized version of black history. The version that understands integration efforts of the civil rights era was more about economics and equal education resources versus Black children needing to sit by white children to excel. During the civil rights segregation era, we had excellent Black only schools, with many Black educators. The only thing lacking was equal access to educational resources for the Black schools. The white-only schools were just fine.

Yes, the majority white status quo gave our black children the run-down, outdated textbooks when the white-only schools were done. But guess what, that is not equality or equity. Sigh… It was what it was back then!

In addition, I read Harry Belafonte’s reflections on peace as he was in discussions with the late Dr. King Jr.:

“Midway through the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. realized that the struggle for integration would ultimately become a struggle for economic rights. I remember the last time we were together, at my home, shortly before he was murdered. He seemed quite agitated and preoccupied, and I asked him what the problem was. “I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply,” he said. “We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house. I’m afraid that America has lost the moral vision she may have had. And I’m afraid that even as we integrate, we are walking into a place that does not understand that this nation needs to be deeply concerned with the plight of the poor and disenfranchised. Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears the soul of this nation. I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house.”

You see, as a Black people and a country, we continually fail to teach our children and each other about the unintended consequences of the 1954 Brown v BOE court ruling. This historical ruling also led to the mass firing of Black teachers and the closures of very successful Black schools under the guise of integration and desegregation efforts. “When the Supreme Court began to mandate that southern states comply with Brown v. Board of Education, more than 30,000 black teachers and administrators were fired to ensure that white teachers kept their jobs.”

It’s worth noting that the fight to expand diverse teachers and administrators matters now more than ever, because our country with its majority white teaching force, continues to struggle a great deal with educating Black and brown children. As a country, only 2% of our educators are Black males. We really can do better. 

All children regardless of their skin color or zip-code can benefit from a diverse teaching workforce. The good news is change is here with Black male educators like Philadelphia’s Sharif El-Mekki, Georgia’s Jason B. Allen, New York’s Raymond Ankrum, and Connecticut’s very own Dr. Steve Perry, just to name a few.

The Unintended Consequences of Connecticut’s Sheff v O’Neil – 1989

Hartford Connecticut’s very own Black parent-led “integration” lawsuit, Sheff v O’Neil, paved the way for their majority Black and Brown children to attend dozens of newly constructed Magnet schools. The July 9th, 1996 court ruling determined Connecticut had a legal obligation to provide school children with a “substantially equal” educational opportunity and that this constitutionally guaranteed right must provide access to a public education which is not substantially and materially impaired by racial and ethnic isolation.

Yes, the Sheff v O’Neil lawsuit resulted in new high-quality Magnet schools to benefit the majority Black and Brown students of Hartford, but does the use of racial discrimination via racial quotas through a questionable lottery system now make racial discrimination legal? These quotas state that 75 percent of seats are for Black and Hispanic children from the neighborhood in these new quality magnet schools and the other 25 percent of seats are reserved for out of district white and Asian students – even if the white and Asian students choose not to attend these urban neighborhood schools which means hundreds of classroom seats remain empty every school year.

How is racial discrimination via racial quotas in public k12 schools ever just? Have we not learned anything from the Jim Crow era?

The most troubling part about all of this education injustice is the fact that the Brown v Board of Education and Sheff v O’Neil decisions, that were designed to protect the educational rights of Black and brown children throughout the country, are now being used to harm them in Connecticut and dismantle quality schools that serve majority students of color in other states like Minnesota.

What is wrong with just ensuring all public schools are safe and high quality, regardless of the demographics?

The Connecticut Parents Union Call To Action-Protect Children.

In August of 2018, the Connecticut Parents Union (CTPU) learned that these unjust racial quotas were not just confined to Hartford students, as it became a statewide law enacted in 2017.

It should go without saying that using racial discrimination via racial quotas as a solution in education perpetuates racism. In many cases, it implies white students are superior to black students thus affirming our 1833 “Black law” which stated that “colored people” are inferior.

This dangerous thinking feeds a false narrative that black children are incapable of learning without the help of white people. This mentality is traumatic for Black and brown children’s self-esteem because the status quo is dehumanizing our very existence. It is like saying that being born Black is somehow wrong.

What role does the Black family play? What role does the Black teacher and administrator play? What role does the majority Black community play? What role does Black history play? if the only measure of a black child’s success is the proximity of their seat to a white child in the classroom.

Yes, integration, as a whole, has many positive and global benefits if it’s allowed to happen voluntarily and organically with intentional culturally responsive activities. But, to force Black and brown kids as young as pre-schoolers into public schools that have a demonstrated bias and disparate treatment against their communities sets them up to fail. Then there is the additional emotional trauma of dealing with racism and hate 180 plus days a year, depending on what school model they attend. This is cruel, inhumane and educational neglect in its highest form!

And no, this doesn’t mean that we do not have caring, competent, committed white teachers in public schools that serve Black and brown students. But the research is clear, many Black students do better when taught by Black teachers.

What About The Research

Those who invest in education should be very concerned about the way so-called integration efforts are being rolled out because it minimizes the role of quality research that emphasizes parent and family engagement, quality teachers and administrators, safe and welcoming learning environments and the effective use of education resources. All of the above clearly lead to the academic success of most students regardless of classroom racial demographics.

Houston We Have a Serious Problem
As a result of this status quo madness in education regarding racial quotas, the Connecticut Parents Union (CTPU) held a few informational sessions in August and radio interviews in September. On October 23, 2018, CTPU held a statewide community event in Hartford Connecticut entitled The True Cost of Integration. In attendance were Minnesota education activist Chris Stewart, Minnesota civil rights Attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, and Philadelphia principal Sharif El-Mekki. In addition, the attorneys for the Robinson v Wentzell lawsuit, the Pacific Legal Foundation along with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the attorneys for Elizabeth Horton Sheff of Sheff v O’Neil attended. 

To close out the year, on December 22nd, during our CTPU 7th annual ‘Tis The Season to be Reading & Parent Express Bus’ activity,  Connecticut parents, students and community members, including our guest, Attorney Oliver J. Dunford of the Pacific Legal Foundation,  gathered for ‘Coffee, Conversation and the Constitution’ community discussions at Hartford City Hall. This event was to help parents and students learn about their individual constitutional and educational rights. The event also included a moment of silence and prayer for the West suburban Hartford family who lost a 12-year-old child through a fatal stabbing in their home. Why the moment of silence at an educational event? Because every child’s life matters regardless of race, zip code or income level.

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What Lies Ahead in 2019 For Marginalized Parents

The year 2018 has come to an end. Yet, I feel like the fight for educational freedom has just begun.

This fight for educational justice leads me, as a Black mom, to firmly believe that the fight for economic freedom in Black and/or low-income communities rests on the expansion of educational choice options. The fight for a parent’s right to choose what is best for their child’s academic and overall success has just gone into overdrive for 2019.

In other words, in order for my state of Connecticut and similar states to meet the diverse academic needs of its diverse students effectively, we must embrace expanded school choice opportunities. This will bring economic stability and mobility to our fractured communities divided by race and zip-code

This doesn’t mean we don’t work together as a community to help improve our traditional public schools. But, it also doesn’t mean you can keep expecting parents, especially Black, brown and low-income, to keep sacrificing our children’s safety, education and overall well-being until the status quo decides they like our babies enough to get it right. Uh… No

To take on this endeavor of expanding school choice for those who need it the most, authentic parent-led organizations, like the Connecticut Parents Union, need the help of philanthropy for both technical and financial support.

In addition, we need quality research where children and parents are part of the process, not an abstract subject line.

And so… the struggle continues with a sense of urgency because the schoolhouse is on fire.

For those who need more insight on this issue of racial discrimination via racial quotas in Connecticut’s quality public magnet schools, I leave you with a third-party perspective, my brother in the struggle for education and economic freedom, Chris Stewart, Senior Partner and Chief Executive Officer of the Wayfinder foundation and a Minnesota education activist.

This blog was originally published on Citizen Ed

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