The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a Freedom of Choice integration (click here for decision) plan for the Cleveland School District that was ordered by U.S. District Judge Glen Davidson last year. I wrote a long post about this last year. This is bad news for Cleveland and bad news for public education in general.
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(Click here for the Wall Street Journal story).
The appeals court didn't expressly reject Freedom of Choice as an option, but said that in order for it to be allowed Davidson needed to explain in his opinion how it would help integrate all-black Eastside High School and an all-black jr. high school. Click here to read Davidson's well-reasoned opinion from last year.
Cleveland currently has two high school districts. One has an all-black high school; the other district has a roughly 50-50 balance between black and white students.
Well, here's the deal. Davidson is not going to be able to explain how his plan will desegregate Eastside because it won't. His order was designed to allow black students the choice to attend an integrated school or an all-black school while keeping a racial balance that would prevent white flight. His opinion noted that Cleveland was one of only two school districts in the Delta to have a substantial number of white students.
A consolidated Cleveland Attendance District will be more than 70 percent black right off the bat. The U.S. Justice Department has insisted that there will be no white flight, and that white families are less resistant to sending their children to a mostly black school than they were in the 1960s and '70s. What the Justice Department is leaving out is that many Delta schools successfully integrated all the way through the late 1980s, when the whites just drifted away entirely, often due to mistreatment.
If the Cleveland schools are consolidated, in 20 years the resulting school will have the same demographics as its sister schools in Clarksdale, Greenville, Greenwood, Leland, Rolling Fork, Yazoo City, Belzoni, and elsewhere. It will have virtually no white students.
For the past 40 years the courts have pushed the notion that the only form of acceptable integration is perfect integration. So vouchers, ability grouping, or anything else that might bring black and white children together as equals have been forbidden. The courts have even gone so far as to rule that in overwhelmingly black districts two white children can't be grouped together in the same homeroom, because splitting them up prevents the creation of an all-black homeroom.
For Cleveland, even a slight amount of white flight will tip the balance enough that a few more whites will leave. And after that there is likely to be a mad dash for the door. Bayou Academy, North Sunflower Academy, Indianola Academy, and Deer Creek School are only a short drive away. Washington School, at 35 miles, is probably the best school academically, and one that some will choose.
Ultimately the question is whether society works to achieve desegregation plans that work on the ground but which are less than perfect, or whether we have to have perfect numerical integration.
In every other heavily black school district in which the federal government has insisted on perfect integration the result has been white flight and almost total segregation. Cleveland will be no different. And just as Cleveland High will soon look a lot like Greenville or Clarksdale, so will the town itself.
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