By Gloria Romero,
Today marks the 66th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision declaring segregated schools unconstitutional. With all deliberate speed, little Linda Brown’s race would never again be used to access a public education “available to all on equal terms.”
Sixty-six years later, our schools remain highly segregated, including in the “blue states” of New York, California, Illinois and Maryland, which have shameful legacies. A 2016 report showed that New York has the most segregated schools for blacks, California the most segregated for Latinos.
I chaired the state Senate Education Committee and wrote groundbreaking legislation enabling parents of children trapped in segregated, underperforming schools to flee their “neighborhood schools.”
Education is the key to the American Dream. But how do we reconcile that too many kids are issued keys that just won’t unlock the door to high-quality schools because, out of public scrutiny, an unamed school district bureaucrat has drawn lines of segregation, preventing kids residing within the same school district entrance to those high quality schools? These obscure lines need dismantling with a new deliberate speed.
Several years ago I met Tim DeRoche, author of “A Fine Line: How Most American Kids are Kept Out of the Best Public Schools.” The idea for the book sparked when we first met in 2013 over coffee in East Los Angeles. I shared with Tim the impact of ZIP code, whereby residency condemns many to poverty and minority youth in particular to being trapped in academically failing schools.
When I wrote the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010, I believed that admission to a highperforming school should not depend upon in which side of town families could afford the rent or mortgage.
These “fine lines” are called attendance zone boundaries in eduspeak (spoken mostly by school district bureaucrats deep within the bowels of the system). In nearly every American city the pattern is identical: state laws enable local school district to carve their district into attendance zones that traffic student enrollment into “their” school.
Frankly, an attendance zone is a license to discriminate. Lines are arbitrary, many resembling the lines of maps of times in which housing redlining prevented minorities buying homes in white neighborhoods. While great attention has been paid to ending gerrymandered congressional seats, scant attention has been given to the role of school attendance zones in exacerbating stark differences between schools within the same school district.
Families inherently understand these policies, aided by real-estate agents, cramming into the coveted zones, driving up home prices and locking out the poor. Other parents lie about their address to gain access. Some have been arrested and charged with felony counts of “stealing a public education.” Hamlet Garcia was prosecuted in Pennsylvania for this “crime.” He is not alone. Across the country, parents have been investigated, arrested, charged. Kelly Williams-Bolar served jail time before finally being pardoned by former Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
In Brown v. Board of Education, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote: “In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” In 1951, Linda Brown’s race was used to keep her out of Sumner Elementary School. Today, lines drawn on arbitrary maps are the pretext for restricting access.
It’s time to expose the lines restricting access to a quality education. And when denied entrance due to obscure lines on a map, it’s time to march to a federal courthouse once again. Gloria Romero previously served as Democratic majority leader in the California Senate.