**UPDATED – Policy FAA passed tonight with proposed changes ensuring that school diversity is considered (9/24/2018) **
This whole post, this video clip and the quotes below are all about or from a meeting of the Montgomery County Board of Education policy committee about how we include diversity as a goal in our school assignment process. Almost every member of the Policy Committee supported some form of accountability around creating diverse schools, except my opponent Dr. Docca. If you click on the link, you will see that 12 minutes into the clip my opponent expresses her opposition to the idea that our schools even can better reflect the reality of our county. In her comments in the policy committee, she says that “sometimes you cannot mix” students and that supporters of diverse schools need to be realistic and remember that “little by little [earlier integration attempts from the 1970s] faded away because people really did not want their kids coming to certain areas” and that we are “past that now.” I could not disagree with her more. My education, my life and my children’s lives have all benefited tremendously from being in diverse environments, and I want every child in MCPS to have the advantage that I was given by attending what Dr. Docca called a “mixed” school.
The entire Board of Education votes today on Policy FAA, and all indications are that my opponent will again vote against modifications to policy FAA designed to ensure that our schools better reflect more of our county. In her comments in the policy committee, she says that “sometimes you can not mix” students and that supporters of diverse schools need to be “realistic” and remember that “little by little [previous integration attempts] faded away because people really did not want their kids coming to certain areas” and that we are “past that now.”
I disagree. Students still benefit from diverse schools, as do whole communities. In fact, we might need diverse schools now more than ever. School boundaries should seek to provide all students with the benefits of diverse schools, just as they strive to provide all students with other benefits, like athletic programs, science labs, specialized programs and advance coursework. School boundaries seek to limit commuting time and distance traveled, plan for growth, and address capacity issues. Obviously, it is hard to balance all of those things and the many, many other things we ask our school boundaries to account for.
Many worthwhile things in life are hard to do. It is not mean we don’t try to do them, or that we give up. We keep at it. Our current school boundaries are far from perfect, but that doesn’t mean we stop trying to create a fair and equitable school assignments across the county. We decided as a community a long time ago that we wanted diverse, integrated schools, and we haven’t gotten there yet, in fact, we are getting further away from that goal. That doesn’t mean we change our values, or give up on what is best for all our kids; it just means that we still have work to do. As Ms. Tadikonda said in the policy committee meeting “It is not ok for 10 and 11 year olds to recognize that they are distinctly segregated by socioeconomic status from their neighbors across the street.” We do not have to accept the unacceptable, just because changing it is hard.
As I listened to the discussion around policy FAA, I thought back to my time in high school in Fairfax, Virginia in the early nineties and found this article, reflecting about when the principal at Fairfax High School (FHS) decided that Johnny Reb wasn’t going to be the school mascot anymore, our football games would not feature either the actual confederate flag or the FHS version, and the drill team was not going to be called the “Confederattes”. It was not a popular decision with many people, and some families even sued. I arrived at FHS right after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor in of the school and it was still something that many in the student body and the community were still processing. But we did process it, and we did move forward as a school community, not in spite of the school’s increasing diversity, but because of our diversity.
That is one reason why as a parent, it is important to me that my children attend schools with people who don’t have the same experiences and background as them. I want my children to learn in an economically diverse schools, and we know that economically segregated schools aren’t good for kids. My dad worked in construction and my mom was at home most of my childhood, and I learned a lot just by being in classes with people whose lives were radically different from mine, it wasn’t always comfortable, but it was important. It was our school boundaries that made it possible for me have classes with embassy kids and the children of professionals; and it was valuable for all of us to know people different from us. As our school community moved forward together, we had real setbacks and problems, but it was us have different backgrounds that made it possible for us to move forward, however slowly and unsteadily we did it.
That is why I want my children to go to racially and ethnically diverse schools, and I also don’t want them on the bus for an hour every morning and afternoon. I don’t want my children, or any other child, to have to shoulder the burden of being an outlier in their school. I want our school assignments to make some sort of geographic sense; I don’t want to look at a school boundary map and think “How does that make any sense?” or wonder if the caselaw about gerrymandering applies to school boundaries.
Parents like me want all of those things and we fully understand that they exist in varying degrees of tension. Balancing all of those priorities and coming up with a reasonable map of school assignments is hard, very hard, but it is absolutely worth doing and it is something other school districts are working on too.
It is the Board of Education’s job to do this work and my opponent simply isn’t willing to try anymore, she has given up on providing our students with the benefits of a diverse, integrated school experience. When voting against the changes to policy FAA she said “we are past that” because the plan that MCPS tried in the 1970s to create more diverse schools didn’t work. She said “you cannot convince me that you are going to be able to mix schools that are east of 355 with schools that are on the other side.” To borrow Ms. Tadikonda’s phrase, it is not OK to treat Rockville Pike like the Grand Canyon. My oldest crossed 355 for school, and had a great high school experience where he played football, was a nationally ranked robotics team and had classes with people from outside our neighborhood. All of those things prepared him well for his next step in life.
The Board of Education’s job is to provide leadership and oversight to MCPS; it isn’t leadership to give up on something as important as diverse schools just because it is hard to do. I am thankful that when I was a child the adults in my community showed leadership and decided that a Confederate themed high school was inappropriate, and I am thankful they stayed with that decision even when it seemed unpopular. This Board of Education need to show the same leadership and make sure that MCPS students get to go to diverse schools. Giving up on providing our students with the benefit of a diverse school is every bit as unacceptable as giving up on making sure that every student has great teachers, access to athletics or specialized programs.
I am not willing to give up on giving every one of our kids the best education we can and I don’t think the rest of Montgomery County is either.
Additional links –
This post is about policy FAA, which is the Board of Education policy that provides guidance and direction to MCPS about how to assign students to schools when they create school boundaries.
As Ms. Ortman-Fouse points out in her remarks and later in a public Facebook post and comments, there is a small mountain of evidence supporting diverse, integrated schools from a wide range of sources. SMOB Ananya Tadikonda then does a great job of connecting the research presented by Ms. Ortman-Fouse with the reality of student’s lives. What many people don’t realize is that the benefits of a diverse student body are school-wide; attending a diverse school has real benefits for all kids, and it improves academic outcomes for many kids.
Also, if you are curious and want to see the school map they are discussing, it is here.