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School Issues: If you can’t be a good example… Lessons from Cleveland

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott School Issues: If you can’t be a good example… Lessons from ClevelandPhoto by Walker Evans.
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You know the old saying: if you can’t be a good example, then be a horrible warning.

The other Cleveland — the one in Mississippi — made national news last week, for its segregated school system. A federal judge has ordered the town to desegregate its schools by merging its two high schools together. One school is highly integrated, the other is highly segregated (almost all black). According to news reports, merging the two facilities will result in a student population that is about thirty percent white.

This week, Cleveland has served as a horrible warning; a poster-child for the backwards sensibilities that still foster segregation in 2016. In the town’s defense, the neighborhoods that comprise it are themselves highly segregated. It’s difficult to build an integrated school system in a segregated city.

Cleveland’s situation might sound vaguely familiar; eerily close-to-home for Columbus residents. According to the most recent information from the Ohio Department of Education, Columbus City Schools is a district that is about 25 percent white (not including Hispanic, Multi-racial, or Asian populations). In spite of this fact, 38 schools in the district qualify to be categorized by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project as “intensely segregated nonwhite schools with zero to 10 percent white enrollment”. The project’s report, Brown at 62: School Segregation by Race, Poverty and State, was also released last week.

Of the district’s 27,759 students who identify as black, 12,673 are in “intensely segregated nonwhite schools”. Removing Africentric’s students from the equation, that’s about 44 percent of the population. That’s also one percent behind Mississippi, with 45 percent of that state’s black students in segregated schools. State-wise, Ohio is ranked in the report as the fifteenth most segregated state for black students.

The district’s evolving building, renovation, and merger plans will impact the local balance in terms of integration. Shuttering schools such as the highly-rated, highly-integrated Cranbrook will close doors for many families and leave the district with fewer children in non-segregated schools. If it can’t find the right counter-balances, the district may find itself in the same place as Cleveland, Mississippi.

To read more articles in our ongoing School Issues series, CLICK HERE.

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