LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Aspiring to rectify decades-old racial inequities, Jefferson County Public Schools on Wednesday approved sweeping reforms to how they affect students in school.
The seven-member Jefferson County School Board voted unanimously in favor of the district’s proposal, which has been in the works for nearly five years.
“Today can be a new start for JCPS. This can be a new start for black children,” said Board Vice Chair Corrie Shull.
“The devil is in the details,” Shull continued, but he voted yes – “cautiously, but yes.”
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Wednesday’s vote puts a nail in the coffin of what was once a countywide school integration effort begun in the 1970s, effectively gutting the last remnant of the “busing” plan keeping schools more integrated than they wouldn’t be otherwise.
Under the plan, students in Louisville’s West End — a predominantly black, low-income area that’s home to the only JCPS students who are still assigned to schools away from home for diversity purposes — will be able to choose to stay closer to home for Classes. They could always choose a school elsewhere in the county.
Superintendent Marty Pollio said the plan will bring a semblance of fairness to a major district policy that hasn’t had it for a long time.
Since the 1980s, students from Jefferson County’s whiter and wealthier neighborhoods have been allowed to attend schools near their homes, venturing out only by choice. Now families in the West End will have the same option. District officials hope attendance, student belonging and family involvement will increase.
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“This is the most important vote this council has taken in decades,” Pollio told the council. “I don’t think that’s the only answer to the achievement gap. There’s a lot we need to do. But it’s a big step forward for this district.”
While agreeing, some school board members, community leaders and retired educators fear a return to segregation.
Negotiations between JCPS and the Jefferson County Teachers Association over additional pay for West End teachers are ongoing.
Hours before the vote, the proposal received the conditional blessing of a coalition of retired black educators and the Louisville branch of the NAACP, the latter of which pushed to integrate Louisville classrooms decades ago. decades.
“Once we realized that ‘dual residency’ was another name for neighborhood schools, and that the ‘dual residency’ of this plan would reduce the segregation of our schools, that was a dilemma,” said Wednesday. afternoon Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville NAACP.
Leaders quickly realized the proposal was likely to pass, Cunningham said. They focused on how they could push the plan to improve academic achievement for black students — JCPS made several changes they requested — and ultimately supported “to benefit black children not just today, but generations to come”.
A long trip
Wednesday’s vote comes after twin Courier Journal investigations examined how JCPS’ nationally acclaimed “busing” plan and its sought-after magnet schools have often let down the very students they hoped to help.
It also follows decades of contention over buses in Louisville. The early days of the school desegregation method in 1975 were met with riots.
In the decades that followed, JCPS scaled back its bus program as the black community shouldered the burden of keeping schools integrated as their local options suffered.
Magnet schools, seen as a way to naturally keep schools integrated, ended up creating a system of haves and have-nots, with black and low-income students often excluded from top schools.
“I was here as a teacher in 1975 when it started,” board member Linda Duncan said before voting in favor of the plan. “I watched the evolution of that plan, watched it evolve into something that didn’t serve our West End students as it was originally intended.”
A district committee began reviewing JCPS’s student assignment plan for potential changes in 2017, this time with a focus on addressing racial inequality.
Then, in 2018, national education officials threatened to take control of JCPS from the state.
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Among the main reasons for the takeover, Acting Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis wrote at the time, was the “distinct and negative impact” the JCPS student assignment plan was having on the children the most vulnerable in the district, which he said included the African Americans of JCPS. students.
When Lewis and the Jefferson County Board of Education reached a settlement avoiding a takeover in August 2018, JCPS agreed to reevaluate and revise its posting plan.
That stipulation catalyzed the landmark proposal approved by the board on Wednesday night, which came after a series of iterations of the proposal and delayed votes.
Milton Seymore, who was the chairman of the state Board of Education when a takeover was recommended, said he felt vindicated.
“The stats didn’t lie,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “The children were in check.
Accountability will be key to the success of the plan, Seymore added.
“I hope and pray that everyone is on the wall watching,” he said. “Because if you don’t, we’ll be back.”
Responsibility and resources
West End schools have already experienced rapid re-segregation over the past decade, according to a Courier Journal survey. The plan passed on Wednesday is almost guaranteed to intensify this trend, further guaranteeing that West End pupils will land in a very poor and hyper-segregated school if they choose to stay close to home.
In an attempt to counter the increased concentration of poverty and give West End families two strong school options, JCPS’s proposal includes additional funding of $12 million each year for at least the next decade to be split among 13 schools of the West End.
The district will also build a college in the community.
Magnet schools will also see a slate of changes aimed at making access to some of the district’s most sought-after schools more equitable.
Schools should try to achieve diversity goals to better reflect the JCPS student population. Magnets will no longer be able to “take out” or kick out students. School application processes will be streamlined, with admissions lotteries moving from school control to the central office.
Is your school affected? Some JCPS magnets expand while others terminate
Some magnet programs will be consolidated on one campus, while other programs will expand to become magnets in their own right. Western High School will gradually become a school-wide computer magnet and coding program. JCPS has also agreed to replicate a popular elementary performing arts school in the West End.
Some black leaders would like to see all West End schools eventually become magnet schools, in part hoping the magnets will attract students from elsewhere in the county to avoid the natural tendency towards segregation. Pollio has previously said he doesn’t support the idea.
After a series of changes between initial committee discussions in 2017 and final adjustments in May, black community leaders tentatively back the plan.
JCPS must now fully implement the plan, several said, and be held accountable if they fall short of what the NAACP called “a moral and contractual commitment to the community.”
“It’s the right thing to do, it’s long overdue,” Raymond Burse of the NAACP said Wednesday afternoon. “And if we as a community are to thrive, we need to ensure that every individual, every student in that community is truly – fully – educated.”
This story can be updated.