The Spencerport Central School District held a meeting Tuesday night about possibly joining the Urban-Suburban program. During this packed meeting, many parents expressed concern, fear and anger over the prospect of 70 minority children attending their schools over the next decade. The children would be accepted as space permits and taxpayers would not pay extra.
It’s been almost 20 years since Urban-Suburban generated such controversy.
In 1998, 10-year-old Jessica Haak wanted to transfer from Rochester City Schools to West Irondequoit through Urban-Suburban. When the program administrator found out she is white, her invitation was rescinded. Urban-Suburban, founded in 1965, is only open to students of color. Haak sued in federal court, saying her rights were violated. The district court judge agreed with Haak. But a federal appeals court found reducing racial segregation is a compelling reason to have a program such as Urban-Suburban, and sent the case back to the district court for trial. The court based its ruling on a handful of previous cases dealing with school desegregation schemes.
In their opinion, the judges note why there is de facto segregation in New York:
There is no question that New York State structures its public school system such that each student has only the right to attend the school in the district in which he or she lives. Moreover, the evidence in the record indisputably shows that the (Urban Suburban) Program was enacted in 1965 to deal with racial segregation in the Monroe County schools resulting from this policy in combination with segregated living patterns.
But the judges identify the major flaw with the Urban Suburban program. A concurring judge wrote:
The statistics with which we have been supplied during this appeal suggest that in the 35 years of its existence the minority pupil population in Rochester City School District has increased from 25.6 percent to 80 percent…. It is extremely difficult to see how this program has had any meaningful impact upon the existence of schools or school districts with “a predominant number or percentage of students of a particular racial/ethnic group.”
Therefore, even though the defendants may have had a sufficiently compelling interest to justify the program at its inception, it is difficult to see how the interest continues, given the program’s limited impact. If a compelling interest no longer exists, it seems to me that the entire program may fail as being unconstitutional, and the plaintiffs would have no remedy.
A dissenting judge made the same point:
Therefore, even though the defendants may have had a sufficiently compelling interest to justify the program at its inception, it is difficult to see how the interest continues, given the program’s limited impact. If a compelling interest no longer exists, it seems to me that the entire program may fail as being unconstitutional, and the plaintiffs would have no remedy…I do agree that there is no more effective means of achieving the reduction of racial isolation than to base decisions on race alone. It is the most effective means; in this case, it just is not a constitutional means.
While Spencerport parents expressed all kinds of concerns about Urban Suburban, they missed the biggest one: Urban Suburban doesn’t work. It’s goal is to “voluntarily reduce racial isolation, and the segregation of academic opportunities.” It undoubtedly helps the nearly 600 students who participate every year, and it presumably helps their classmates who benefit from being exposed to children unlike themselves. But as Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski has said, “it’s tokenism.”
Urban Suburban makes participating school districts feel like they’re making a difference, even though our schools are still some of the most racially and economically segregated in the nation. Spencerport parents could have embraced the program for what it is – a small gesture. Instead, they exposed Urban Suburban for what it is not – true change.
Links of the Day:
– I do not see anything groundbreaking in U of R’s plan to save East High. Implementation and execution will be key.
– Amy Pierson acknowledges all that unity after her husband’s death has evaporated.
– “It’s one of the most shocking documents ever produced by any modern democracy about its own abuses of its own highest principles.”
– The incomes of young Americans are shrinking.
– It takes 146 days to get a dermatology appointment in Syracuse.
– Minorities at Harvard, other law schools seek delays in finals because they’ve been busy protesting.
– A Rochester man wants to collect fire patches before he dies. He’s getting a lot of help.