The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

The Power of Separation

By Michael King, December 1, 2000, News

"Forty-six years after Brown, our schools are still separate and unequal." That charge -- referring to the 1954 Supreme Court decision against separate and unequal schools known as Brown v. Board of Education -- was directed at the AISD Board of Trustees in an Oct. 30 letter from the Eastside Social Action Coalition. The coalition, which comprises several East Austin churches and community groups, asked for emergency action to "Reverse AISD Failure to Educate Our Children."

The coalition insisted that the board of trustees take "immediate and deliberate action" to ensure "equitable educational achievement" for children of color, and described the continuing lower achievement rate and higher dropout rate of students of color as "an emergency of horrible magnitude." In the absence of a substantive response from the board, said coalition president Rev. Sterling Lands of Greater Calvary Baptist Church, the coalition is preparing to remove African-American students from public schools and start educating them in community churches, an action that could potentially cost Austin schools state funding, some of which is based on student attendance.

"That's our fall-back position," Lands told the Chronicle Nov. 27, three days before a scheduled Nov. 30 meeting with AISD Board President Kathy Rider to discuss the letter's demands. Those included smaller classes, additional resources, and "racial and economic equity in education policies, indicators, opportunities, and outcomes." Lands said the coalition's discussions with the board have not become adversarial thus far, and he hopes that situation will continue. "We don't want to hurt the district -- we want to help the district help our kids. ... We do not want to pull our children out of the schools," he added, "but we are prepared to do that, if it becomes necessary."

The coalition's letter requires 20 specific actions -- ranging from better TAAS results for all students to a general rise in grading standards -- but pays particular attention to unequal or disproportionate treatment of African-American students and school personnel in various AISD programs. The letter demands immediate action to increase the number of minority students in honors and Advanced Placement programs, to lower the currently disproportionate number of minority students in special education programs and "alternative" or disciplinary programs, and to start hiring minority teachers in numbers that will reflect the actual student demographics of the schools.

Lands said the Oct. 30 letter was a result of correspondence with the board earlier this year. The board provided extensive documentation about school conditions which, he said, "validated our initial concerns." The coalition, which includes representatives of several Eastside churches as well as the local NAACP, intends to insist that AISD "raise its standards -- to take care of things that are broken. We want to help them do that." He said the detailed letter is an attempt to make specific and actionable requests, instead of "just generally asking for help."

Lands said that he has been encouraged by the board's initially cooperative official reaction. He dismissed public statements by some board members to the effect that there is simply "not enough money" to do what the coalition has asked. "We consider that a non-response," he concluded. "If you're telling me you just can't do it, you're saying we have to do it ourselves. And we will."

Copyright © 2019 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.