In May, a report by released by UCLA's Civil Rights Project and Penn State University's Center for Education and Civil Rights confirmed that school segregation in the South is on the rise, with more black and Latino students attending intensely segregated, high-poverty schools than in the past several decades.
It’s easy to assume this can be attributed to systemic inequality—the rise of charter schools, poor funding to the most needy schools, white flight to the suburbs, and increasingly segregated neighborhoods. All of this is true, but it can also be attributed to a rising phenomenon occurring all across the country: smaller communities seceding away from larger school districts in order to form smaller, wealthier, and whiter ones. In this way, school segregation persists, with white parents who have some financial means doing their best to create borders around their schools that keep poor black and brown students out.
Five years ago, organizers in Gardendale, Alabama, decided it was time to secede from the Jefferson County School District — because of the changing “dynamics.” [...]
On a Facebook page to discuss the school district secession, one of the organizers wrote that it would give them "better control over the geographic composition of the student body.” They were hinting at their dismay that students from a mostly black neighborhood were being bused to their mostly white schools.
“Those students do not contribute financially,” one organizer wrote. “They consume the resources of our schools, our teachers and our resident students, then go home.”
These parents were responding to a desegregation order established in 1971 to create racial balance in schools. Desegregation has long been a contentious issue cross the country but the argument used to make their case is also a familiar one. This kind of rhetoric not only implies that the wealthier white kids are somehow being damaged by attending school with poor black students (of course, they aren’t), it also uses dog whistle language to paint the black kids and their families as “takers” who are mooching off the plentiful resources and taxes of the neighboring white schools and families.
Who could find a way to argue with that compelling narrative?
Since 2000, 70 other communities have tried to secede from their district, according to [a recent EdBuild report.]
Two-thirds of those of those secession attempts have been successful, and most of the other cases are still ongoing. [Rebecca Sibilia, from EdBuild who studies school secession] points out that some of these secession efforts are logical, like the one in California’s San Fernando Valley. But many of the proposed school borders are along socioeconomic lines, and they would further isolate poor children in segregated schools.
This is how we know that America is truly an individualistic society. Rather than share resources to make sure poor kids get educated, wealthy parents in this country would rather wall themselves in to make sure their kids only mix and mingle with other wealthy kids. This is not only damaging to poor kids’ well-being and future success, leaving them with no other options but failing schools, it’s also not good for wealthy kids in the long run. Studies show that there are tremendous benefits to socioeconomically and racially diverse schools—including the reduction of racial bias, increased college enrollment and lowered drop out rates, increased critical thinking and problem solving skills, and improved intellectual self-confidence. These are assets for students of all backgrounds and colors.
Of course, history is on the side of the secessionists. Since the 1970s, white communities have been trying to stop poor black kids from attending their schools, and they’ve been given license to do so by courts. One such case involving school busing in Detroit made it to the Supreme Court in 1974.
In 1970, the Detroit school board tried to ameliorate the city’s segregated schools.
Four of the six school board members voted for a plan that would bus high school kids from one zone to the other, and vice versa, to create more racial balance.
This led to bomb threats, protests, and recall elections for the four school board members who voted for this plan. Ultimately, the Michigan state legislature blocked the plan from going forward.
[The NAACP then created a plan to have white students bussed to the city to attend school and black students bussed to the suburbs to attend school. This plan was approved by a federal judge but due to massive uproar made its way to the Supreme Court. In Milliken v. Bradley,] the Court found that the City of Detroit was responsible for violating the constitutional rights of black children.
But here’s the important part: It blocked the interdistrict busing plan. The Court said that unless the district lines were drawn with racist intent, the suburban districts did not have to integrate among each other or with Detroit.
Likewise, in Gardendale, Alabama, a federal judge has granted the predominantly white parents the right to their own school district while acknowledging, "These citizens prefer a predominantly white city." And no doubt this desire is fueled by an increasingly divided, ethnocentric America headed by Donald Trump, who won 62.9 percent of the vote in Alabama.
These parents may think that they won by creating their own segregated school district. They may fool themselves into thinking it’s about something other than race and class. But in the end, it’s not. Its a very old tactic that has been sanctioned by the government, which only further perpetuates inequality. And in the end, its the kids, of all colors, who lose.