Thursday, December 20, 2007

Diversity post Deseg: Our position on the District's plan to end busing...

Wichita School District USD259 is looking at ways to end it's busing for desegregation program. We have argued for the last few years that we [Wichita NAACP] as an organization are committed to diversity and integrated schools, however, we are not 'married' to busing as the method. We have argued that if the district wants to end its busing for desegregation program, than it should first make a plan that would show how we would maintain diversity, access to quality teachers and materials, while providing academic rigor, high standards and high expectations for all students.

This year, the Superintendent assembled a task force to study recommendations and make suggestions for such a plan that would be a suitable alternative to busing. I served on that task force and made suggestions that were incorporated into the final presentation that the Superintendent made to the Board of Education.

Yesterday I was interviewed by the Wichita Eagle (our local newspaper) to gather community reactions to the presentation. While my comments were rather lengthy, the article itself focused on showing diverse opinions, therefore my comments were truncated and our position was not conveyed.

As the plaintiff organization in the original lawsuit that led to the creation of USD259's desegregation plan, I feel it is important that we clearly communicate our position to the community. I have since pieced together my own notes from the interview, and I will now share my reassembled notes from that interview with you all, in their entirety...
~~~~~~

Wichita Eagle:
What was your reaction to the superintendent's proposal?

KM:
I was pleased we were able to reach a compromise. The plan recognizes the fact that we need to sit down and do the hard work of figuring out how to deal with capacity issues and student assignments. But, in the interim, this plan offers acceptable choices to children in the AAA area.
____________

Wichita Eagle:
Are you concerned about the district possibly returning to more segregated schools?

KM:
Certainly. Most of the districts who have abandoned their desegregation programs have become increasingly segregated and we have seen a return to an unequal distribution of resources. If we are going to avoid that fate, then we as a community will have to be active, vocal and vigilant and we will have to hold our elected representatives on the school board, along with our superintendent and administration accountable for the condition of those schools.

But we can not solve this issue without going back to the map and redrawing school boundaries. The AAA neighborhood for student assignment purposes was defined by residential segregated housing patterns. To truly move beyond race in education, we should abandon the old 'Negro district' and develop new school boundaries using the same growth and capacity formula that we would use anywhere else in the city.
____________

Wichita Eagle:
How could we re-draw those boundaries? What would that look like?

KM:
What we [the Wichita NAACP] envision as an ideal scenario would be an all magnet, open enrollment district. Short of that, any new boundaries drawn would require constant vigilance on the part of parents, community organizations and concerned citizens.

We need to consider redrawing school boundary lines to reflect locations of students and capacities of surrounding schools, and get away from old maps based upon segregated housing patterns.

We believe that if we all work together to reexamine school boundaries and and determine how best to assign students, we may be able to provide diversity without forced busing.
____________

Wichita Eagle:
Some people have expressed a concern about how the district would ensure that there were equitable resources for all schools. And the District has talked about possibly building more schools in central northeast Wichita. What are your thoughts?

KM:
We are for building enough schools to address district capacity issues, however, the location of those schools should be based upon student population and needs. We should not focus on creating seats specifically for Black children or seats for specifically for Latino children solely for the purposes [of vacating] a court order. That is actually a step in the wrong direction.

If all we do is replace a few schools in the old Negro district, then we will have simply returned to the same segregated pattern and formula that led to the original lawsuit brought by Chester Lewis and the Wichita Branch. But if we capitalize on this moment, this envisioning process really gives us an opportunity to do something truly visionary and progressive.
____________

Wichita Eagle:
Are you concerned that this could be a very prolonged process and how would that effect children in the AAA area?

KM:
According to the plan as submitted, kids in the AAA area get preference in placement to magnet schools for however long it takes.
____________

Wichita Eagle:
There seem to be some generational differences of viewpoints, with some in the older generation who fought to end segregation in schools are saying we need to keep busing for deseg, but some younger people in the community are saying we should end it. How do we reach a common ground? And IS there a common ground?

KM:
Among those of us who are most affected, I think we have to work for that common ground.

Let me go on record as saying: We, as the NAACP, are in favor of maintaining diverse, integrated schools. And we will oppose any plan we see as a harbinger to more segregated school assignments. However, we believe by collectively reexamining school boundaries and plans for student assignments it is possible to achieve diverse and integrated schools without forced busing. All of our efforts are focused to that end.
.
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