Diversity needed here

Published 10:29 pm Monday, March 8, 2010

Education Secretary Arne Duncan selected the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Monday to announce the Obama administration’s plans to toughen civil rights enforcement in schools nationwide.

This initiative will touch on various topics from academics to discipline. In his remarks Duncan said the Education Department’s civil rights office has not practiced the kind of vigilance it should have.

Duncan said his department soon will conduct a review to determine whether students have equal access to opportunities, including college-preparatory classes.

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He said he will issue guidelines to public schools and colleges to address fairness.

While the Education Department is working on its fairness doctrine it also needs to work on the issue of resegregation of schools.

The trend has occurred around the country for nearly a decade. It is more pronounced now because court cases have dismantled mandated and voluntary desegregation programs and allowed parents in most cities nationwide to send their children to the schools most convenient for them.

Some experts have said the high minority populations in many public schools are because white students are a decreasing portion of the population. Others counter with the notions that schools shouldn’t hinge on the color of a person sitting in the classroom.

A study conducted by UCLA Civil Rights Project several years ago pointed out segregated schools also tend to tie into school performance and the ability to attract teachers.

Still separate and unequal.

It was ironic Duncan made his speech on the Edmund Pettus Bridge among students from a primarily segregated school system — segregated because of what happened 20 years ago when Faya Rose Toure urged students and parents to march on the campus of Selma High School and disrupt classes to end what she considered to be an unfair and racist system of tracking students’ academic performance.

A better approach — sitting down to negotiate instead of drawing a line in the sand and making threats — would have possibly saved the public school system here in Selma from becoming segregated again, something many successfully worked to undo decades ago.

While Toure may say she stopped tracking in the schools; she also contributed to the demise of diversity in the Selma public school system, thus, denying white and African-American children the opportunity to socialize peaceably; to live out the dream the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned and promoted at the March on Washington.

Secretary Duncan is correct in saying the administration should work harder for civil rights in our school system.

But we, here at home, will have to work harder to ensure diversity first, then the civil rights portion will fall into place.