A recent New York Times piece titled, “Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City,” summarized the internal struggle many parents and families face when it comes time to send the kids to school. In this article, an African-American woman who was born into a working class family but who had worked hard to enter the middle class, explained how she and her husband explored the different school options for their daughter. They found that ideals and fears collided in a way that underscored the idea that even the most idealistic parents find it difficult to send their children to low-performing schools, many of them majority African-American and Latino.

I strongly encourage you to read the entire article, as it explains how New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the country, is also one of the most segregated when it comes to schooling. The fact that many families enjoy “diverse” and integrated schools comes at a steep cost to the rest of the city’s schools.

Not unfamiliar is the explanation of how small community enclaves have figured out how to be politically savvy enough to force the attendance lines to be drawn in a way that favors their community – while segregating out the Black and Latino students. This happens all over the country, and I applaud the author of this article for speaking out about our contrived “integrated” school system.

This is also sadly the case in DeKalb County Schools. Many people have heard about white flight from Atlanta during the 1960s, when Brown v. Board of Education ruled that schools could no longer explicitly segregate themselves by color. Rather than risk their children having to go to school with Black children, many White families left the city of Atlanta, creating first tier suburbs in DeKalb and Cobb counties. Atlanta was left to deal with plummeting house values and economic disinvestment.

Interstates & Redlining Crushed Black Communities While Simultaneously Benefiting Whites

Then, with the creation of the interstate system, black families and white families were separated by expansive highways like I-285 (the “Perimeter”) and I-75/I-85 (ironically, the “Connector”). Hundreds of black neighborhoods were condemned and then cleared in order to make room for “progress” (Allen, Frederick. Atlanta Rising, p. 131. Longstreet Press. Atlanta, GA. 1996.)

Eventually middle class black families who were able to move out of Atlanta in search of better housing, schools, and job opportunities did so. However, redlining stymied their efforts in many ways. “Racial redlining is the practice whereby mortgage lenders figuratively draw a red line around minority neighborhoods and refuse to make mortgage loans available inside the red lined area. Broadly defined, racial redlining encompasses not only the direct refusal to lend in minority neighborhoods, but also procedures that discourage the submission of mortgage loan applications from minority areas, and marketing policies that exclude such areas” (GIS for Equitable and Sustainable Communities).

redlining handbook
From Jack Dougherty and Shaun McGann

This wreaked even more havoc on Black families who were trying to enter the middle class and grow their wealth. Even when they had accumulated enough wealth to buy a home, they couldn’t purchase a home in certain areas. Banks justified their position stating that they reserved autonomous discretion for giving or denying loans. While Whites gained wealth through home ownership, Blacks continued to suffer financially under the system of racism.

This practice was eventually banned in 1977 by the Community Reinvestment Act, but irreparable damage had already been done. Economic investment occurred in white parts of town while black areas languished due to redlining practices that also affected the places businesses chose to locate. If a business wanted to build in a “Black” part of town, the banks were much more hesitant to provide loans, and when they did, the loans were much worse (in a way similar to those given during the housing bubble of the early 2000s).

When Black families moved to DeKalb, this triggered another wave of white flight, as white families moved even further away from the city of Atlanta. As one former teacher at my old, predominantly white private school told me: “The Blacks ruined our schools in DeKalb. We used to have some really good schools, but I hate to say it: the Blacks really ruined them.”

Gwinnett, North Fulton, and Cobb continued to grow in both the public (roads, schools, libraries, etc.) and private (businesses,  etc.) sectors as more and more investments were made to accommodate the increase in population.

And so segregation continued, even if under a different guise other than legalized racism. This is what people mean when they state that our country still suffers from systemic racism. The systems that we have allowed to exist post-Jim Crow have continued to negatively impact Black communities while simultaneously giving White communities an unfair and – to many whites – an invisible advantage.

DeKalb Needs to Consider Race When Redistricting

Here we are in DeKalb County in 2016, and we are dealing with the effects and the continuation of systemic racism, and nowhere is it more apparent than in our schools. In the southern part of the county, we have schools that are over 98% Black, while in the northern part of the county, we have “diversity.”

towers demographics
Towers HS Demographics
mcnair demographics
McNair HS Demographics
lakeside hs
Lakeside HS Demographics
dunwoody hs
Dunwoody HS Demographics
druid hills demographics
Druid Hills HS Demographics
columbia demographics
Columbia HS Demographics

*All demographic information obtained from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement for the 2014-2015 school year.

But in South DeKalb, ask residents if they feel as if the schools are integrated or equal and they will have a different perspective. Even though recent spending in DeKalb has been much higher in the South, the inequities go much deeper. And the reason we can have some “diverse” schools is because we have allowed communities and their representative politicians to draw the attendance lines in a way that unfairly segregates specific communities – both by race and by socioeconomic status (SES).

Take for instance the Druid Hills and the Towers clusters. The reason the lines are drawn this way, is not because it’s most economical or most practical. It’s because we have a flawed system for drawing our attendance zone lines. Here are our district-stated criteria for school zoning:

Primary Criteria (based on logistics):

  • Geographic proximity
  • Instructional capacity
  • Projected enrollment

Secondary Criteria (when the primary criteria indicate more than one option for action):

  • Safety and traffic patterns
  • Previous redistricting
  • Balancing of special programs, (i.e., ESOL, programs serving special needs students that require additional classroom space, etc.)
  • School feeder alignment
  • Intact neighborhoods

From what I have heard, many people in North DeKalb’s “diverse” schools (not counting Cross Keys HS) would likely not be heralding the joys of their children attending one of the schools in South DeKalb. Many schools in the northern and central parts of DeKalb are over-crowded while South DeKalb schools are under-capacity. Perhaps we should suggest a redistricting that shifts students downwards towards some of the under-capacity schools in the southern part of the county?

region adapted for dhhs

That sort of redistricting meets many of our criteria and it is more cost-effectiveness. It’s much more efficient and economical to send kids to an already existing school than to add onto or rebuild or place trailers at an over-capacity school.

And I believe that besides the cost-effectiveness of such a decision, the county school district should be encouraged by the set of guidelines released by President Obama. In this set of guidelines, President Obama outlines many ways that school districts can work towards achieving diversity through the use of magnet programs, school siting decisions, and feeder patterns. The guidelines also make it clear that if a school district is unable to achieve diversity using these “race-neutral” methods, then school districts can consider race as one of the components when trying to achieve racial diversity.

Please read the above-linked set of guidelines and the accompanying legal framework. I believe we, as a school district with too many segregated schools, need to consider some of these ideas in order to create schools that are truly diverse. Like New York City Schools has done, we need to pass a local law that would accomplish the following:

Introduction No. 511-A would require the Department of Education (DOE) to submit to the City Council and post on its website, an annual report regarding student demographics and the DOE’s efforts to encourage diversity within schools. The bill would require the DOE to report this demographic data for students for each community school district, each school within a district, and each program within a school. Introduction No. 511-A would also require the DOE to report on any efforts during the preceding school year to encourage a diverse student body in its schools and special programs, including; strategic site selection of new schools and special programs, considering demographics of neighborhoods when drawing attendance zones, and targeted outreach and recruitment efforts. (Emphasis added)

Study after study show that students – both white and black – do better when attending integrated schools. Much of the fear of integration is a fear of the unknown, and, as with most fears, is not entirely rational.

We need to look at the facts and realize that when we truly achieve a system of integrated, diverse schools, we will not be harming our students’ academic or social well-being. To the contrary. We will be improving the outcome for all students – regardless of their race.