Racial segregation of schools in the 21st century

Seattle Public Schools is rezoning right now, to meet capacity shortages that were caused by their decision several years back to close a bunch of schools. The closures occurred largely in the south part of Seattle, which is the most racially diverse area. There were closures in the north part of Seattle too. The school that our kids now attend was slated for closure. The community fought back and won, and two years later it was completely overcrowded. So the closures made no sense.

Something else happened as a result of the closures. When capacity shortages started to happen, the Summit K-8 program at the Jane Addams site was closed down, and about half of the students, who bussed in from South Seattle by choice, were sent back to South Seattle. What could the district do? There really were not enough seats to go around, and the Jane Addams site was being underutilized. And the choice to close schools in the north, while a mistake, was in the past.

That’s how racial segregation of schools is working in the 21st century.

Now the school district is rezoning to meet capacity needs. Some neighborhoods were once assigned to schools within walking distance. (It’s actually called a “walk zone” because Seattle has quite a few geographical barriers to walking to school, such as hills and freeways.) But this isn’t happening equitably. The district, which is probably shorthanded because of budget cuts, drew preliminary boundaries and then requested community feedback. Now, mysteriously, it appears that more diverse neighborhoods are losing access to nearby schools than less diverse neighborhoods are.

Why? How could this happen?

Let me back up and explain why I even know about this. In Seattle we have a community blog called Save Seattle Schools. I think it started back when the original school closures did. Bloggers Melissa Westbrook and Charlie Mas report and comment on district goings-on. And they provide a forum for parents all over the city to share information and perspectives.

IMO, they’re among the best investigative journalism around schools in Seattle.

Anyway, they posted open threads for parents in the different areas of Seattle to comment on these boundary changes. The thread for Southeast Seattle has a blogger, JvA, with a theory about why this has happened. Here’s what her neighborhood looks like:

Mid Beacon Hill is far more mixed, with white, Chinese, Filipino, and Vietnamese each only comprising 17-26% of the population. There is no racial or linguistic majority at all. The majority of residents speak a language other than English.

Her neighborhood was rezoned out of its walk zone. So was another neighborhood, Georgetown. Both neighborhoods, quite rightly, protested the change. However:

As far as I can tell, the district didn’t consider any such cultural or linguistic factors when assessing the input. I mean, it’s obvious white / US born / English speaking populations speak up more often than other populations, right? It’s obvious this is a farce, right?

She’s not even sure that the non-English speakers were notified:

Has the district even translated any of the materials about these radical changes to Beacon Hill, let alone tried to distribute them? My daughter goes to Maple, so I know for a fact that there have been no handouts in her backpack about it. Is it up to me to try to explain to all the folks on my block (Tagalog, Japanese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Eritrean…) what is going on?

This is how racial segregation of schools happens in the 21st century.

And this isn’t just about that one neighborhood. No, there’s a pattern:

–Citywide, families at 28% of Title 1 (low-income) schools would lose official Seattle Public Schools-designated walk zones, compared to 12% of non-Title 1 schools.

–Under the new proposal, 67% of Beacon Hill schools would lose walk zones, compared to 13% for the rest of the city.

–All of the Beacon Hill schools losing walk zones are Title 1 (low-income) schools.

Poverty and racial inequity. What a winning combination.

There’s just one thing in her comments I disagree with:

I know it’s not very Seattle to talk about racial / cultural inequity . . .

Plenty and plenty of people in Seattle care about this. Plenty don’t, of course. I do.

What’s going to happen with this small neighborhood? Stay posted by watching JvA’s blog, at:


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