The year was 1975. I was teaching in an upper middle-class NY suburb. It was also home to many working-class and poor families as well. Of the district's 13 elementary schools, mine was the only neighborhood one. All our kids walked and the teachers made frequent home visits.
Every student in our district had access to the same learning materials, quality of teachers and special services. It didn't matter where they lived. Were some schools "better" than others? Probably not. It was more what teacher a student had that made the most difference. And, like any district, all the schools had some great, mediocre and not-so-effective teachers.
ENTER THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
As a result of a D.O.E. notification I chose after school to drive one of my 4th graders -- a youngster from Haiti -- to an elementary school about five miles away.
We were making this trip because our school was being closed the following semester and Jean (not his real name) was going to be bused to this particular educational institution.
There were schools closer to where Jean lived, but he wouldn't be attending one of them. He was black and was needed to fill a quota.
The D.O.E. had informed the district that our school was home to 25% children of color and the district-wide average was 12%. As a result, though not forced by the D.O.E. our school system decided to heed the information and to disperse students of color to different schools to ensure each had an equal percentage of minority students.
This wasn't Alabama or Tennessee or Arkansas. This was a suburb 35 minutes from New York City. While busing was absolutely needed in many areas across the country, this was not one of them. That being said, the school system's administrators and Board decided to act on D.O.E.'s notice. They were people of conscience, though in retrospect perhaps misguided.
I brought Jean into the school and introduced him to one of my former colleagues. I wanted him to know someone at this new school where he would be one of seven black children. None of his friends were attending. They were spread out to various of the other 12 schools in the district. This was to be his scholastic home until he entered junior high.
Were we doing him a favor? You be the judge.
I had a close friend with a PhD in student rights who worked for the U.S. Commissioner of Education.
I discussed the situation with him, and his response was that the government didn't have the manpower or money to know which school districts were on the side of the angels and which were not. Consequently, the D.O.E. made blanket declarations, statements and/or rulings to protect students like Senator Kamala Harris whose district might or might not be as enlightened as ours.
I suppose one could make a case for the decision saying it was for the better good. Perhaps my district was a lone exception. However, government edicts and suggestions that unintentionally hurt students rarely operate in a vacuum. You can be certain if they harm students in one district, it won't be an isolated case.
THE NEXT BIT OF D.O.E. CRAZINESS
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