Diversity Should Be Praised, Not Enforced

By Chenoweth, Karin | Black Issues in Higher Education, April 13, 2000 | Go to article overview

Diversity Should Be Praised, Not Enforced


Chenoweth, Karin, Black Issues in Higher Education


The latest school integration case is now being chewed over by school board attorneys around the country, and it's proving fairly indigestible. No one is quite sure where it leaves magnet programs, busing programs, transfer policies or anything else related to school integration and desegregation.

The case, Eisenberg vs. Montgomery County, began when a Montgomery County, Md., parent wanted his son to attend a school a few miles away rather than his home school. The home school, Glen Haven Elementary, has about 600 students who come from very diverse backgrounds: roughly 25 percent are White, 30 percent Latino, 35 percent African American and 10 percent Asian -- and almost half receive federally subsidized meals.

The school he wanted his son to attend, Rosemary Hills, has no special programs. It is a little bigger but has additional resources because many years ago, it was defined as a "math-science magnet." It had been made a magnet because there was a lot of worry in the late 1970s and early 1980s that White flight would leave it an all-Black, mostly poor school.

The magnet stabilized the White population and, coupled with a gentrification of nearby apartment buildings, it now has a student population that is somewhat mixed but majority White.

Again roughly, the demographics are about 65 percent White, 15 percent Latino, 15 percent African American, and 5 percent Asian -- about 20 percent of the children receive federally subsidized meals.

In any case, the parent ran into Montgomery County's transfer policy, which said that children could not transfer from one school to another if it would negatively affect the racial balance at either school. No one seems to be sure exactly what formulas were used to determine this. But the Glen Haven parent was denied his request essentially because the school system decided that Glen Haven needed White students more than Rosemary Hills did.

He then filed suit, and eventually the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled -- as it has before in other cases -- that as far as government action is concerned, the fate of an individual cannot be tied to his or her race or ethnicity.

The Montgomery County Board of Education -- arguing that the transfer policy was constitutional because it applied to African American and White students equally -- appealed to the Supreme Court. Last month, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, thus allowing the Fourth Circuit ruling to stand.

Montgomery County, just north of Washington, D.C., has something of a history of supporting integration. It by no means has an unblemished record on this issue, but it did not have the kinds of fights over integrating schools after the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that its neighbor to the south, Virginia, did.

The county has a political structure that has pushed for integrated housing and public facilities. And, in fact, because of its housing patterns, Montgomery County has some of the most integrated schools in the country.

Einstein High School, which Glen Haven feeds into, is roughly 30 percent African American, 30 percent Latino, 30 percent White and 10 percent Asian. Thirty percent of the children receive federally subsidized meals.

Even the nearby high school that Rosemary Hills Elementary School feeds into, Bethesda-Chevy Chase, is relatively well integrated, by national standards, with about 55 percent White, 20 percent African American, 15 percent Latino and 5 percent Asian.

Of course, the schools that are known as Montgomery County's "prestige" high schools have nowhere near those numbers. Whitman, Winston Churchill and Walter Johnson have very little diversity, except for that provided by the children of diplomats.

But they tend to have rigorous academic programs with experienced teaching staff. Students come from families where graduate degrees and brand-new BMWs are commonplace, and their average SAT scores are among the highest in the country. …

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