As a Latina riding on the school bus to my predominately white elementary school, I remember the way we would all peer out the windows with our faces half hidden when the bus from the northern part of town passed by us. “That’s the school with all the black people,” someone would say, and we’d turn to her and wonder how she could be so racist. But she was right. That school didn’t have a white face in the hallways, on the soccer team or in the pictures on the school website. A lot of schools didn’t. It was an absence we wouldn’t notice in the hallways of our own school until we played them in football games or competed with them in choir events. Looking back, we never thought anything of it or held any racial prejudices. But today, it seems like more and more institutions are trying to avoid this from happening.
This is one fear currently propelling the Kentucky Supreme Court to take action. Local school boards have concluded that the decisions of where students attend schools should be left within the hands of local school boards as opposed to parents and students themselves. Officials are worried that having parents choose their “neighborhood schools” would result in resegregation. But parents aren’t pleased. Many would rather have the convenience of being able to attend school functions without the travel constraints, agreeing that the concept of a desegregation busing system is outdated. Ted Gordon, the attorney for the plaintiff’s case, states: “And is this the way you improve it, or is this the way you sell out so that we can have a black child sitting next to a white child regardless of educational outcome so everybody feels better about it?” Parents also seem to agree that diversifying the school does not guarantee an improvement in academia, but rather poses an inconvenience for parents themselves and places students in a school system they may not wish to be in.
The controversy began after a debate concerning the interchange of the terms attend and enroll. Last fall, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled that students have the right to attend the same school where they are enrolled. However, this was found to work against the assignment plan of Jefferson County Public Schools, which argued that the word attend was removed from state legislation in 1990. It was then recently concluded that students can enroll in their neighborhood schools but cannot necessarily attend them. But it seems this change in official terms has only further vexed parents, who believe that decisions made based on the color of one’s skin is only setting us all back.
Parents of students in Jefferson County have felt both powerless and determined for change following the ruling. Some, such as plaintiff Chris Fell, are being proactive; Mr. Fell is running for his child’s school board. Others have only felt more powerless over this decision, unable to sway or change the decision of the Kentucky courts. Either way, it seems that the fear of resegregation is still prevalent today in school systems, ultimately splitting parents and school board members over how to best improve and advance the education of their children and students.