U.S. schools still face segregation, including in Leon County

By Alyssa Blake

Chris Petley discusses segregation in Leon County Schools.

For decades people fought for the integration of schools in America finally seeing a change in 1954 when Brown v. Board of Education was passed. But over recent years statistics have shown that schools are becoming segregated again both racially and economically.

According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, “Black children are five times as likely as white children to attend schools that are highly segregated by race and ethnicity.”

The study also showed that 12.9% of white students attended schools with a high concentration of students of color, while 69.2% of black student’s attended schools with high concentrations of students of color.

“Segregation within the schools is an issue in Leon County that Superintendent Hanna has worked on and tried to make sure that our schools represent our community as a whole,” said Chris Petley, the communications coordinator for Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna. “He’s focused on updating policies and protocols to try to ensure that the demographic looks like a Leon High or Cobb Middle who are in the middle of our community and represent different neighborhoods.”

The Leon County School Board is aware of segregation trends and working to make local schools more integrated.

“We try to focus on keeping our students in their home zone school. With the state of Florida’s school choice policy there’s sort of a white flight going on,” Petley said. “There are populations that are leaving our schools going to either private schools or charter schools, and that’s what bends the curve of what our demographics look like which is out of our control. But we can try to change our internal school choice policy. In the past, if you wanted to go to a different school all you had to do was write a letter and you would be approved, now it’s based on capacity as well as lottery system, which has gone along at keeping everyone at their home zone school.”

Yennifer Castillo is a first-year biology education student at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University who recognizes zoning as a contributor to school segregation, but for different reasons.

“We have to look at the reason why segregation is reoccurring. In Miami, where I’m from you had to attend the school in magnet and assigned to where you live,” Castillo said. “If you have brown children who may be in a certain class status and stay in the same area, they’re kind of forced to go to schools with people from the same neighborhood. Sometimes people also want to attend schools with people that look like them for safety and comfortability.”

As Castillo points out, there are various reasons some people might be reluctant to have their kids sent out of their own neighborhood. And some Black parents may be hesitant because they want to spare their kids from having to deal with difficult racial situations.

A timeline of U.S. school desegregation.

“There are people who think that resegregation is best,” said Kathleen Rodgers, the Assistant Superintendent of Prevention, Intervention, and Equity for Leon County Schools. “People think back to the traumatic events that people of color had to go through to attend integrated schools and they have the mindset that now we know how to teach our own and engage them.”

Regardless of support or opposition to school segregation, there are concerns that students who attend schools that primarily consist of students of color may not receive the same opportunities as students in predominately white schools.

“There has been an effort to combat unequal education opportunities to predominantly black and Hispanic schools such as Title 1, which provides extra support and funding to those schools who have students who are lower class or have educational delays,” Castillo said. “But there are still many systematic things that affect students, because even if they are getting a good education, if they are in a neighborhood without a lot of resources or their family is struggling, they might not have the money for tutoring or their parents may be working two or three jobs and unable to help them with schoolwork at home.”

Though the school system recognizes that segregation is still present for a variety of reasons, it must now figure out how to reverse it if they want to see a rise in integration.

“We are trying to boost our magnet options, which puts different programs such as workforce programs on our school campuses to entice people to stay there,” Petley said. “We have completely rebuilt Rickard’s High School and Fairview Middle School, which are in Southside, higher minority districts, but they are stunning districts and we are trying to show people that.”

To ensure that all students receive the proper curriculum regardless of race or school zone, the school board has implemented monitoring for schools.

“We have progress monitoring which helps us make sure that curriculums are the same as well as the instructional program,” Rodgers said. “It’s important to also have the right teachers and instructors that are skilled at what they are doing and for us to make sure that we have equitable programs across the board.”

Though segregation within schools is a real and current issue, it’s important that schools provide students with the best resources and skills available regardless of their demographic.

“As a school system our focus is on creating and developing a citizen, not just educating an individual,” Petley said.

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