Last week a lawsuit was filed in Hennepin County against the State of Minnesota Department of Education alleging that policies in Minneapolis and St. Paul School districts promote segregation. Parents behind the lawsuit state that school district policies relating to neighborhood or community schools do not allow for their children to attend other schools in the district that are not part of their community. Thus the schools are once again segregated. This is easy to see if you take a look at the demographics of several Minneapolis Public Schools. For example Lake Harriet Upper campus is 83% white with 2% ELL, 10% Special Education and 9 % Free and Reduced lunch. Only 8 miles NE of Lake Harriet Upper is Anne Sullivan Communication with 80% black (African American and East African) 57% ELL, 20% Special Education and 97% Free and Reduced. If you look at the housing demographics near each school you would see similar numbers in regards to ethnicity and poverty rates. Thus when a policy that encourages community schools is put back in place the segregation is inevitable.
However there is choice in regards to where a student does attend school. This choice is in the form of
Open Enrollment with other districts or Public Charter Schools. Both of these options allow for families to
choose the school and district their children attend. Open Enrollment allows students to attend another district if there are openings in that district. This choice is not uncommon in Northeast Minneapolis, however many of the students leaving the district are white, thus the segregation continues. In regards to charter schools, many charters have a particular curriculum focus which may include a unique approach to
teaching and learning or may focus on a particular culture. If you take a look at the Demographics of Harvest Prep Academy you will see that 97% of the school is Black (African American) and 93% are Free
and Reduced. What is the difference between Sullivan and Harvest Prep? The segregation at Harvest Prep is a choice that families have made. Therefore the segregation happens through choice. This is frequently the
case when a schools’ curriculum is focused on a particular culture or approach that resonates within a cultural community.
At this point two larger questions loom:
1. How do we integrate our schools when housing patterns have continued to segregate our communities?
Socioeconomic factors along with cultural comfort often dictate housing patterns and therefore dictate the demographics of a community or neighborhood. Historically, Public Schools have been one of the centers of the community, and are often held up as the glue that binds. This is quite evident in suburban and rural communities when the “Friday Night Lights” bring everyone together.
This is one of the primary reasons (along with busing costs and start times) for a move back to the neighborhood school.
2. Should we put time and resources into integrating our schools when some of the segregation is by choice? Would it not be more beneficial to put energy into integrating the school into the community it lies (geographically). This includes the economic / business community, the cultural resources a community offers and the people who live and work in that community. This approach would once again put value into the school that lies within that community. Schools would not be just viewed as a building where kids go to learn.
In the end it is ultimately how families and students feel connected to the broader community and whether they see themselves as valued members within. School curriculum must view the local neighborhood as a valued resource and students should be actively engaged in the area. Members of the surrounding area, whether they are residents or business owners, should be invited into the schools and the students should participate in activities in the community. At the same time we must continually work to challenge and change our housing policies and economic opportunities so people of all cultures and socioeconomic groups feel welcome in any community regardless of where it is geographically. Finally we must insist that all schools receive equitable resources necessary for all students to succeed. This does not necessarily mean the same or an equal amount, but that each student or school receives what is needed for there to be true equity in education. This is especially true when it comes to teacher quality, experience and stability. When we get to this place, lawsuits regarding segregation in schools will not be necessary.