Friday, March 28, 2008

Geographical Segregation, The New Divide

When the ruling in the desegregation order first came down, in 1972, it was supposed to lead to the betterment of facilities, curriculum advancement, fair distribution of teacher assignments, and assignment of students to schools by, in effect, forcing the Jefferson Parish school system to do away with the "dual" system in the parish that they had established for African-American students and Caucasian students.

As the plaintiff's attorney (Mr. Gideon Carter) and the school board's attorneys (Mr. Charles Patin and Mr. Jack Grant) attempt to redesign the new Consent Order, after the Federal Court's refusal to sign off on the original, they are essentially, and intentionally, creating another disparity in education: that of geographical segregation. This geographical segregation will in essence prevent the parent of any west bank child (white, minority, magnet, or district school student) from sending their child to a school on the east bank , to a school that may have greater educational opportunities, resources, and hope, to afford their children a better educational background.

How many parents in Jefferson Parish are aware that the school board and the plaintiffs have demanded that many African-American children presently attending majority-white schools on the east bank return to the west bank to attend predominantly-black schools next year? They have called these children "collateral damage".

Is this the new definition of desegregation? Is this what Lena Dandridge originally fought for in 1972? These students and their parents epitomize the rights and opportunities that DANDRIDGE v. JEFFERSON PARISH SCHOOL BOARD afforded all African-American students. To take that away from these children now is to go back in time, when segregation was the norm, when Jefferson Parish was a "dual" system. Instead, the Jefferson Parish school board and the plaintiffs propose and envision another kind of "dual" system, a dual system separated geographically, where the educational opportunities on one side certainly do not equate to the other. Since when is it allowable to substitute one form of segregation for another? Since when is it acceptable to label any child "collateral damage", when your JOB is to consider the educational well-being of all children in your school system?

The attorneys allude to the idea that the parents in Jefferson Parish don't know what is in the best interest of their child. They allege that the parents would not want to drive or otherwise transport their children to a school across the river that may provide opportunities and promise to these children that they might not otherwise receive at their "home" school of record. This is ludicrous.

I believe that a parent, more than any other, certainly more than the attorney, knows and wants what is in the best interest of their children. I elect to drive my child to a school outside of her "home" school zone because it is in her best educational interest. I surmise that there are many other parents with students in the Jefferson Parish school system who feel as I do, and would choose to make the sacrifices necessary in order to provide the best background for their children to succeed in life. How dare they speak for us. How dare they presume to know what is important to us. "Neighborhood" schools notwithstanding, I believe that most of us would choose opportunity over location.

If we allow the Jefferson Parish school board and the plaintiffs to succeed in closing off the east bank to our deserving students on the west bank, we are again allowing segregation to rear its ugly head, just in another form.

Write to the school board members. Let them know, in no uncertain terms, that YOU are the best judge of your childs' needs. Let them know that you are demanding that your children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren, (and all future west bank children) who are in or who will enter the public school system in Jefferson Parish, have access to the best education possible, regardless of which side of the river that it's on. Let them know that you expect the Jefferson Parish school system to uphold the promise in their mission statement:

Our mission is to be an extraordinary school system by building an environment of excellence, effectiveness, and efficiency that supports the success of our students, our communities, and our employees.

Let them know that the success of their students, and the community as a whole should not be contingient upon which side of the river you reside. Let them know that we are Jefferson Parish, not West Jefferson Parish and East Jefferson Parish. Our tax dollars support schools on BOTH sides of the river. Let them know that the future of the education of our children in Jefferson Parish public schools does not belong in the hands of an attorney who is waiting for his next paycheck, who does not know our children and their needs. It belongs in our hands.

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