Originally posted at the School Desegregation Notebook
There’s a lot going on in this crazy world, so in case you missed it: Wendy Vitter was nominated by the president for a federal court seat in the Eastern District of Louisiana. She was asked in her confirmation hearing about whether Brown was correctly decided, and she gave a troubling answer. Here she is suggesting her “personal, political, or religious views” may favor segregation:
The key text is:
- “Senator, I don’t mean to be coy,” Vitter responded, “but I think I get into a difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions, which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with.”
As several articles point out, this kind of evasion has been common for Trump nominees, though Vitter’s was clumsier than most. Nonetheless, she can look forward to near-certain Senate approval. (And, if you recognize her last name, it’s because she’s married to former Senator David Vitter who recently lost a campaign for LA governor and then resigned from the Senate.)
This article from Above the Law gives an interesting breakdown of why originalists, like Vitter, have a hard time answering straightforward questions about segregation:
- “Originalists try to skirt most of the horrific defects of the original Constitution by referring to the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments as curative of all of the Constitution’s racist ills, but Brown trips them up because the institution of segregation post-dates the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Clearly, the original authors of those Amendments thought segregation was okay.”
Brown forces originalists to either endorse segregation or admit that constitutional approval of segregation prior to 1954 was wrong. Should be easy, but clearly it is not.
Because the Vitter story is disturbing, I wanted to briefly note a few sources of hope coming recently from North Carolina and New York. As mentioned in an earlier roundup, the NC legislature had announced plans to break up large school districts, which would accelerate resegregation. Last week, however, lawmakers tabled this effort, referring it for further study. At the local level in NC, candidates for school board seats in Forsyth County (Winston-Salem) stated clear opposition to a school choice assignment plan that has fueled resegregation there. One candidate noted:
- “It’s part of the systemic racism culture that is a part of our school culture — our district culture. Our schools are segregated, and that’s plain and simple. It has affected our students; it’s one of the reasons for our achievement gap.”
This is important because a recent study (conducted in NC) found that “Democratic school board members in North Carolina reduced school segregation more than non-Democrats by revising attendance boundaries” and a recent widely discussed Vox story illustrated how much change is at least theoretically possible by redrawing school attendance zones.
And, there’s been a lot of promising news that has come out of New York recently. I don’t have time to discuss each of these in the detail they deserve, but wanted to note them here and include some links:
- The NYC City Council released a report that outlines 12 policy recommendations to reduce segregation in housing, schools and infrastructure. This City Limits article has a good summary. For schools, the report recommends “reforming school assignment policies on the high school, middle school and elementary school levels to factor in integration goals, and ensuring school district rezonings always achieve greater levels of integration.” The report also recommends the creation of an “Office of Integration” in the city.
- Mayor de Blasio recently announced an initiative called “Where we Live NYC” that would examine the causes of housing segregation and would assess compliance with the Fair Housing Act, as outlined in an Obama-era rule that’s been delayed by the Trump administration.
- Last month, Richard Carranza was announced as the new chancellor of NYC schools. In a recent Chalkbeat interview, he identified school integration as a priority for his tenure and stated at a press conference earlier this month that he intends “to double down on efforts to end segregation in city schools.”
- Lastly, the most potent source of hope for me: student activism to end school segregation. Though this work is being led by students from various groups in NYC, it’s intended audience goes much beyond NYC. There’s a few stories here –
- First, this Mic article covered an event held by Teens Take Charge, a student-led group, founded by the creators of The Bell podcast, to advocate for integrated schools. At the event, Sabrina DuQuesnay, a student at Brooklyn College academy told the audience that: “Many [parents] continuously strive, hoping that their children will get the best quality education possible only to find out that their location and socioeconomic status deprives their children of that right…Many of them will slip and fall through the cracks of this system and become part of the seemingly never-ending cycle of poverty.” Their group is recommending “minimum academic diversity” standards that “would place students from the 62 lower-performing kindergarten through eighth-grade programs in the same high schools with students from the 14 top-performing kindergarten through eighth-grade programs.”
- And, as detailed in an earlier post, students from IntegrateNYC are planning weekly actions leading up to the 64th anniversary of Brown on May 17th, and their campaign officially kicked off last week. This is a big effort. Check out this summary from Integrated Schools – as pointed out there, the organizers aren’t asking for much. Since I started with an upsetting video, I’ll end with a more uplifting one. Here’s a very short overview of the campaign. You can visit this website to find out more, follow the new twitter profile for the campaign (@stillnotequal), and keep up with the effort using #stillnotequal. They just started week 2 of the campaign, which focuses on resource equity – here is their very informative and useful virtual teach-in on that topic.