Mark Dorosin - who is the managing director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights, a father of three, and a recently sworn-in in Orange County Commissioner - has written a letter to the Chapel Hill Carrboro School Board about the current school reassignment discussion. I couldn't agree with him more about the thinly veiled racism in the sudden clamor for "community schools." A term which is still fully tainted by the Republican takeover of the Wake County School Board, and rings hollow in suburban Chapel Hill where almost no schools are realistically walkable.
“Unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will learn to live together.” Thurgood Marshall
Dear Chairperson Brownstein and Members of the Board of Education:
As you begin to discuss the various redistricting options, I urge you to make racial and socio-economic diversity the highest priority in the redistricting criteria under consideration. As the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board, like its peers across the state, continues to work to improve student achievement and close the gap between white and minority students’ test scores, it is critical that every available resource be utilized. These resources include, in addition to technology, books and high quality teachers, students and families. Extensive social science research demonstrates that students learn from their peers, and that racial and socio-economic diversity among students enhances that learning. All students, regardless of their individual socio-economic status or race, achieve at higher levels in socio-economically diverse schools.
Racial or socio-economic isolation is a known barrier to securing the prerequisites to a quality education. Diversity is essential to enhance each school’s ability to educate students for citizenship in this state, compete for good teachers and administrators, win parental and public support, sustain high academic expectations, and generate a climate of respect and tolerance for people of different races, cultures and experiences. The failure to achieve diversity creates a two-tiered system of good versus mediocre schools and erodes support for public schools overall.
There are many critical impacts on education that the school board cannot control, including where students live, their family income, or the opportunities a student receives outside of school. That’s why it is so important that the board aggressively engage on the impacts it can control: where students go to school, who they go to school with and the resources available at each school. Make no mistake, the stigma of “bad” schools is palpable and it affects students and teachers assigned to them. Why would the board choose an assignment plan that puts a new school behind the starting line and undercuts its abilities to meet our stated goals?
Perhaps most distressing in the recent redistricting debate has been the call from some for so-called “community schools.” There is no escaping the reality that the term has an ominous pedigree and has been used to justify racial and socio-economic segregation from the 1960s to the recent debates over reassignment in Wake County. Whatever the motivation of residents calling for community or neighborhood schools, these loaded terms are rooted in an anti-diversity balkanization of school districts with regard to student assignment and attendance areas. Moreover, the idea of “community schools” not only ignores the continuing legacy of residential racial and socio-economic segregation in housing opportunities, but also takes a shortsighted and narrow view of what constitutes a community. Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County is our community. Northside, Seawell, Estes Hills, Carrboro, Morris Grove, Frank Porter Graham, Rashkis, McDougle, Mary Scroggs, Ephesus, and Glenwood are all community schools.