Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Invading Yankees are resegregating the American South

Jonathan Tilove:

The suburbs in Mecklenburg County, which surround Charlotte and share a school system with the city, are swollen with new arrivals innocent of local racial history and preoccupied with securing quality neighborhood schools like those they left behind. The result is an unexpected twist across several fast-growing stretches of the New South: 140 years after the end of the Civil War, a new invasion of Yankees is undermining school integration.

"Some of the desegregated parts of the South, especially metro areas that were fully desegregated for more than a quarter-century, had some of the most rapid growth in the country, partly, I think, from the positive view of their educational institutions," said Gary Orfield, director of the Harvard Civil Rights Project and the nation's foremost authority on school desegregation patterns.

"But this very growth drew in many affluent Northerners who thought they had a right to segregated all-suburban schools, a process that is producing some of the terribly isolated, impoverished ghetto schools that the Northern cities have suffered from.

"There is a terrible irony here."

To many newcomers, however, there is nothing of the sort. They see only their obligation as parents to secure the best possible education for their children. If they are invaders, they are an army of liberation, freeing the South from its hidebound obsession with race.

"We always end up in all kinds of trouble by fighting the last war," said Jack Heilpern, a management consultant and father of four who grew up in Salt Lake City and lived in 10 states before moving to the suburb of Huntersville north of Charlotte a decade ago.

In recent months, Heilpern -- who prefers the wisdom of crowds to that of even the brightest and best-intended experts -- has emerged as spokesman for a movement to break up the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS).

It is a movement borne of suburban discontent with a large, centralized school system that to them seems unresponsive to their needs, in part because, even with the end of busing, it is still struggling to avoid too much resegregation. The movement was started via e-mail by Heilpern's 17-year-old son, James, soon to be a senior at hopelessly overcrowded Hopewell High School in Huntersville, and '05 class president Domenic Powell, 18. By the time people discovered the two were teenagers, their cause had caught fire.

The effort to break up CMS would require state approval and is unlikely to succeed. But its popularity among whites -- a Charlotte Observer poll in May found 54 percent of them were supportive, while 64 percent of blacks were opposed -- is the latest blow to the school system where court-ordered busing began and which, after initial resistance, came to be a national model for successful integration.

Integration was once a source of civic pride. CMS students were dispatched to help Boston through its busing crisis. When Ronald Reagan railed against busing during a 1984 campaign appearance here, he met with silence. Charlotte boomed as a banking center and, in 2000, Bank of America CEO Hugh L. McColl Jr. credited school integration with igniting the Southern economy "like a wildfire in the wind."

But by then success was already unraveling. A late 1990s lawsuit ultimately ended racial busing in CMS. Of the seven plaintiffs, six were recent arrivals. The lead plaintiff, Bill Capacchione, returned to California before the case even came to trial. And now, 30 percent of Mecklenburg County's residents have arrived within the last few years, outside avatars of post-civil rights color-blindness who operate beyond the reach of Hugh McColl or the long arm of history.

Educational testing -- including that mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law -- allows affluent white movers to consult the numbers and buy homes near schools replete with others like themselves, segregating in streamlined fashion.

"When people move, they are looking to go from like to like," said the Rev. Lisa Hunt, a member of the school board for Metropolitan Nashville (Tenn.) Public Schools. There, the student enrollment has just become majority minority, even as the population in neighboring Williamson County, which is only 5 percent black, surged with newcomers, many drawn by the reputation of its schools. It's the same story in Georgia's fastest-growing county, Forsyth, an Atlanta exurb that is only a fraction of a percent black.

With the end of court-ordered desegregation in CMS, schools popular with newcomers, like those in northern Mecklenburg, overflowed with students from nearby neighborhoods -- and new demands.

"It's `I, I, I, me, me, me,"' said Richard McElrath, a retired teacher and founder of Parents United for Education. In his view, Huntersville's hunger for more schools or its own district would consign children of the poor -- black and now also Hispanic -- to increasing isolation in the city.

Between 1991 and 2001, according to Harvard's Orfield, the average black student in CMS went from attending a school that was 52 percent white to one that was 35 percent white.

Local figures indicate that by last year, the proportion of black children attending schools that were at least 80 percent black had quintupled since 2001 -- to 15 percent from 3 percent.

Don't Underestimate Mecklenburg Parents

Blacks suspended far more than whites

Should this school be saved?


At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"fully desegregated"

How is this defined? How do they quantify or qualify this?

I can guarantee you the South is no different than anywhere else: whites w/ the means to do so live as far away from significant concentrations of blacks as they can get/afford.

BTW, LA is at the same time one of the most diverse and one of the most segregated cities in America.

At 7:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Huntersville's hunger for more schools or its own district would consign children of the poor -- black and now also Hispanic -- to increasing isolation in the city."

If I wanted to send my children to schools in the city of Charlotte, I would have moved there. Not much good can come from excessive bus sightseeing tours criss-crossing the county. How far away do I need to move to ensure my kids can go to school close to home?

At 12:09 AM, Blogger Christine said...

It's not a race issue for Huntersville. There is not enough room in the schools for the children that live there. The school board says 'too bad, why don't you send you're little ones on two hour bus rides' No, then you must be racist.

Why is a mom who wants their child to have a seat in a school a horrible person. The Charlotte Chamber says the schools are excellent. They are lying. If Hunterville parents speak up about horrific violence in the schools and heinous overcrowding they're racist.

Thanks to Jonathon Tilove for a balanced article. Weepy melodrama, insinuation of suburban parent's motives and nothing new to add to the story.

We live in a capitalist society and people do look out for I,I,I and Me, me, me. It's not realistic to think otherwise. That's what the people in the urban areas are doing when they strive for better schools. I deparately hope they get them.

They need to team up with the Suburban parents to shake up the school system. Otherwise it's divide & conquer. At this point they've put huge bonds on the table that fix the overcrowding. That will quiet the suburbs without any help to the urban areas.

Race needs to be set aside and we need to work together.


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