Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments….it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms. . . .
To separate them [children in grade and high schools] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone. . . .
We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
Chief Justice Earl Warren, majority opinion in Brown v. Board of Education.
The Pinellas County, Florida School Board has turned the clock back sixty years.
A recent exhaustive investigative report by the Tampa Bay Times (one of the best papers in the country) revealed how the board reinstated de facto segregation in five South St. Petersburg schools, ignored the severe problems that arose (including breathtaking rates of teacher turnover), and turned average to good schools to the worst in the state.
The article details the saga in horrific detail. The explanation for the segregation lies in the demographic makeup of St. Petersburg. St. Pete’s neighborhoods are predominantly either white or black, with South St. Pete being mostly black (with the exception of the areas right along the water — waterfront property is waterfront property). It was no accident, either: a history of racist housing policies and white flight were responsible.
The school board, which for years had been under mandates to integrate the schools, made the catastrophic decision to end busing and other measures to insure that no school was more than 60% minority. The board decreed that children not enrolled in a magnet school had to go to their neighborhood school. They then failed to give the South St. Pete schools the help they needed. Among other problems, students with problems were concentrated in those five schools, rather than being spread in cities throughout the schools. The board also starved the schools of resources: in one case, they reduced the per child payment of state and local money to less than that of other schools in the district, making it up in federal funds that were intended to supplement, not replace, local and state money spent on poorly performing schools.
The attitude of the board infuriates and sickens me. One particularly oblivious member said “We only talk about it in black schools, but we resegregated white schools as well.” Yes they resegregated the white, more affluent schools in North St. Petersburg. If no one is talking about the effect of the resegregation on the white schools, its because from a pedagogical standpoint it hasn’t been a problem.
The school board blames the students and parents: they’re not doing enough to prepare their kids. It’s poverty. It’s single mother households. It’s not our fault. Except that the rates of poverty and single-family households are no worse that very many better performing schools. Studies showed that after kindergarten the children entering the five schools were as well prepared for elementary schools than other Florida schoolchildren — they dropped behind their peers starting in first grade.
I won’t go into more detail here; if I did, I would end up with a post of several thousand words. Please, read the article: it is both worthwhile and damning.
I grew up in South St. Pete, about a half mile from the bay. At that time my neighborhood was predominately white; minority kids in the schools I attended were often bused in. Over time the neighborhood demographics changed due to white flight. My mother stayed where she was.
The school I went to, Bay Vista, has been turned into a “fundamentals” magnet school. It gets five star ratings on the “Rate Your School” website. Compare this with the elementary school that a student who lives in my neighborhood but is not in a magnet school attends — those get an F from the state of Florida. My brother and his wife and son live in the house now, so this issue is of more import to me than simple nostalgia. My nephew (a.k.a., the cutest kid in the world) may end up in one of those schools, unless he can get into a magnet school or gets homeschooled. There are not enough spaces in magnet schools for those who can use them. It should not matter: students in other schools deserve an education, too.
I have occasionally been asked if Florida is part of the South, if they share in the racist heritage of the rest of the Confederacy. The answer, as shown by this article, is a sickening, resounding yes.
My heart breaks.