At tonight’s DeKalb County School Board of Education meeting, during the community input session, I am going to be speaking up about the district’s Phase 2 and Phase 3 proposals to address the Cross Keys cluster overcrowding issue. Many different options are on the table. What we cannot miss is this opportunity to address racial and socioeconomic inequities that have, for too long, been unaddressed in the northern part of DeKalb County.

There was quite a pushback from the parents in DCSS Region 1 last time the word redistricting was thrown out there. You can read both the letter from the Ashford Park PTA and the response from Kim Gocke, President of the Cross Keys Foundation, here on the DeKalb School Watch blog. But the northern part of DeKalb needs to rethink how we zone students for particular schools if we want to preserve the goal of equal opportunity education. “Separate but equal” has never worked.

DeKalb County School System obtained unitary status in 1996 which basically meant that the county was no longer under court supervision to desegregate. (I explain this a bit more in one of my previous posts, but for a full history of the desegregation of DeKalb County, check out this blog series by J. Marcus Patton.) However, our county school system still has some vestiges of segregation, and I think that the county proposal regarding the Cross Keys attendance zone needs to address this lingering issue.

I think we also have legal precedent to consider this continued focus on desegregation. In Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell, the Supreme Court held that the 1977 finding that the system was unitary did not explicitly dissolve the 1972 desegregation order, and so that order still stood, even though court supervision may have disappeared with the granting of unitary status. See here for the summary.)

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a school district has had to struggle through the issue of “resegregation,” as some call it. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the landmark legislation that prohibited discrimination in several areas including housing, employment, and education. Under this legislation, there are several sections, including the Educational Opportunities Section, which, according to the U.S. Department of Justice webpage “is involved in hundreds of desegregation lawsuits against public elementary and secondary school districts (as well as one state higher education system) where [they] seek to ensure that state-sponsored segregation is eradicated.” Additionally, the Equal Education Opportunities act of 1974 also “prohibits deliberate segregation on the basis of race, color, and national origin.”

Below are several recent and relevant cases from the Educational Opportunities Section of the U.S. Department of Justice. According to what I have found, a cause of action under the EEOA (Equal Educational Opportunities Act) can be brought regardless of whether a district has achieved unitary status, as several of these cases show.

As we consider proposals for DeKalb County School System’s Phase 3 regarding the Cross Keys cluster, we need to consider the following cases as they relate to specific issues in our district.

1. We cannot continue to draw the attendance zones in a way that furthers segregation.

From the Huntsville City School Desegregation Case: “The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama approved a consent order filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Huntsville City Schools to reconfigure school attendance zones [and] improve access to quality course offerings…The Department [of Justice] objected to the [original] plan because it did not further desegregation or remedy racial inequalities in students’ access to quality academic offerings.”

Pertinent to the issue with the Cross Keys cluster, this district — unlike DCSS — had not yet attained unitary status. However, the fact that this took place this past April 2015 and dealt with the issue of redrawing school attendance zones in a way that the U.S. Dept of Justice claimed would not further desegregation, suggests that any plans we create to address overcrowding in the CK cluster should not continue do this. Read the press release here (from the Huntsville case).

2. We cannot accept a plan that would impose a disproportionate transportation burden on any subset of students — as it currently does in the Cross Keys attendance zone.

From Anderson & United States v. Madison County School District (2000): “In this longstanding school desegregation case, the Section and a class of black plaintiffs opposed the school district’s proposal, among other things, to build five new schools. The Section contended that the district’s proposal would not further desegregation of the district’s schools, would not afford black students equal educational opportunities, and would impose disproportionate transportation burdens on black students. The school district’s transportation records showed, for example, that some black high-school students were required to ride a bus up to nearly two and one-half hours each way to and from school, while white students were bused no longer than forty-five minutes to and from the same school; nonetheless, the school district proposed to build a new high school at a location that would reduce the transportation times of white students while maintaining the transportation times of black students.”

While Hispanic students in the CK cluster do not have to ride the bus for almost two and one-half hours each way to and from school (like the students in this case), bus rides for students attending Cross Keys High School reach up to 10 miles (or more) because the district is over 10 miles long.

Any plan the district creates to alleviate the overcrowding in Region 1 needs to address the transportation issue, particularly for the Cross Keys attendance zone students.

3. We need to consider that a proposal that only considers construction of new buildings within the Cross Keys attendance will continue the segregation of minority students to one attendance zone.

We have already seen this in DeKalb, albeit it 30+ years ago. Here is an excerpt from J. Marcus Patton’s blog:

“Redan High School was operating in excess of its capacity by the 1978-1979 school year. By 1984-1985, the overflow, housed in trailers on the school grounds, numbered 808 students. The DeKalb County School System (DCSS) planned to build a new school in Redan’s district (known as Redan II) to house the 8th and 9th grade classes and alleviate some of the pressure.

In 1983, the plaintiffs in the class action suit filed a motion seeking to enjoin the DCSS from building a new facility. They alleged that the system was seeking to avoid assigning white students in Redan’s district to neighboring predominantly-black schools” (emphasis added).

This sounds all-too-familiar. We need to think of solutions that will not only alleviate the overcrowding of the 90% Hispanic attendance zone in the Cross Keys cluster, but will also (1) promote the integration of students, and (2) address the over-capacity that many schools like Dunwoody High School, Hightower Elementary, Montgomery Elementary, and others across Region 1 are experiencing.