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A New Conversation on Race and Segregation in Schools

It’s been over 60 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision ended legal segregation in schools. But the issue still lingers—and, in some places, might be backsliding, or getting worse.

As Jamie Boscha writes in The Atlantic, a 2016 analysis by the National Equity Atlas found that in almost every major U.S. city, students of color were more likely to attend schools with high levels of poverty than their white counterparts.

While wealthy families sometimes have the luxury of moving to more affluent suburbs, most urban minority families don’t have the same opportunities. In some places, this disparity has led to de facto segregation, Boscha writes.

Racial inequity remains a stark and persistent challenge in many of America’s public schools. But there is good work happening in some forward-thinking communities.

Here’s three stories of school districts that used community engagement to battle the negative effects of race, poverty, and cultural dissonance in their schools.

Rethinking desegregation in the Twin Cities

In the wake of a lawsuit against the state of Minnesota, school leaders in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area have taken it upon themselves to start making change.

The lawsuit charges that segregation between largely minority, poor students in inner city schools and white students in suburban districts is creating inequitable educational opportunities, reports Solvejg Wastvedt in Minnesota’s Post Bulletin.

In response to the suit, superintendents from area districts are planning to hold community meetings throughout February and March. The idea is to find new, innovative ways to reverse the trend toward inequity and segregation.

“We can do so much better for all of our students,” David Law, superintendent for Anoka-Hennepin schools, told the Post Bulletin, “and we’re creatively thinking about it, and we’re gathering input from our students impacted.”

Based on the talks, participating superintendents hope to put together a list of steps to encourage integration and equity across the region, going beyond standard solutions, such as busing, for example.

Taking threats seriously in Osseo

Thirty miles northwest of St. Paul, Osseo School District recently confronted its own race-related controversy.

In November, after racial slurs were written in a high school bathroom, the local school board and Superintendent Dr. Kate Maguire quickly released a plan to engage the local community on issues of race.

In a letter sent a day after the incident, Dr. Maguire outlined four immediate steps the district would take to ease tension there, including a new racially-sensitive strategic plan, better staff training, a long-range equity policy, and community-led discussions on race and segregation.

Growth and diversity in Hays

In 2015, Hays Consolidated Independent School District in Texas faced accusations of cultural insensitivity involving the district’s English language immersion program.

In years prior, the region had seen a tremendous influx of young professionals and international families moving into the district.

When stakeholders criticized administrators for not doing enough to support an English-language program, administrators sought feedback from the community about how to improve communication.

The district implemented broad school climate surveys and focus groups to better understand parents’ frustrations.

Administrators reported back to the community about what they found and used their feedback to foster a sense of unity and cohesion in the district, even as its population continued to grow.

What steps are you taking to encourage diversity and inclusion in your schools? Do these stories ring true? Tell us in the comments.

Want more ideas on how to face issues of race and inequality? Read Leading the conversation about race and intolerance in schools.