Segregation Returns to Nebraska?
NEBRASKA'S legislature has covered itself in shame, voting to turn back the clock on race relations by allowing the Omaha school district to divide itself along racial lines.
The action violates the Constitution's equal-protection clause, and it is in direct opposition to the 52-year-old Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education that said segregated public schools are unconstitutional.
Unfortunately, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, didn't have the fortitude to veto the bill. He signed it into law, meaning that Omaha will be permitted to divide its schools into three districts: white, black, and Hispanic, beginning in 2008.
Nebraska legislators fell for the argument that separation along racial lines will give minorities more control over their children's educational progress.
Sadly, the state's only black senator, Ernie Chambers, who is from Omaha, is part of the problem. He correctly points out that all-black schools frequently lack resources and experienced teachers. But he's wrong in believing that carving up the 45,000-student system into racial groups will somehow ensure that minorities are not cheated by a system that favors whites.
Public schools with large minority populations nationwide similarly lament a lack of resources and concede that their teachers are inexperienced. Most districts, though, use techniques to improve minority students' performance. Until now, nobody has suggested resurrecting Jim Crow.
Ironically, Omaha schools are less segregated than most large cities. Omaha's is 46 percent white; 31 percent black, 20 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent Native American. Returning to segregation is not the way to improve conditions between races. It will only widen a rift that's already too wide, too old, and quite frankly, tiresome.
The bill ought to be - and presumably will be - declared unconstitutional. Nebraskans who took the time to think know this. Omaha Sen. Pat Bourne decried the bill, adding that his state is one of the first in 20 years to move backwards on race relations. Attorney General Jon Bruning is sure there will be lawsuits. Omaha School Superintendent John Mackiel said the bill won't stand. Legislators are expected to develop yet another plan.
If this is some sort of a cruel joke to turn attention to how public school districts shortchange minorities, it's working. But the proposed solution is no improvement. There is no time clock on laws established to ensure equality for every American, regardless of race, color, or creed.
Plenty is wrong with the nation's public schools, and the sorry performance of minority students is one problem. However, there are better ways to address their academic shortfall. State-sponsored segregation is not one of them.
Segregation is never the answer.
We as a country went to long and fought to hard to END Segregation.
I understand when resources are thin or not enough to deal with teaching many students, but that is when you find ways to get the resources, expand your teachers, and the ability of your teachers to do more. Pay your teachers better.
Anything to help education, and to meet the responsibility of teaching the children, BUT Segregation along racial lines is NOT the answer. You bring back the era of Jim Crow, and era best left dead and forgotten.
This is an embarrassing leap backwards in racial equality.
More than 50 years after the United States Supreme Court said American children should not be separated by the color of their skin, Omaha students may soon head to class in school districts essentially divided by race.
Ernie Chambers, the Nebraska state senator behind the new law, says Omaha is already divided economically, socially and racially. "Segregation," he says, "exists right now."
"Our children are failing, the schools are failing," Chamber says. "The gap between the achievement of white children and black children in their respective schools is not narrowing."
Chambers says each group should be allowed to govern their own schools.
The gap between achievement of white children and black children in their respective schools is not an excuse to separate them by race and have them go to racially segregated schools!
Chambers mentions a divide between them, but I don't see an explanation on WHY there is a gap between them.
Is Chambers saying that teachers are not teaching as well or not enough to minority children of Black and Hispanic? If so, is he hinting that teachers are racially motivated in their teachings?
I would like to know why the gap exists, but somehow I don't think it has anything to do with race. It could be a number of things from economic factors to motivation. This does not mean that children of different race or color are not being taught because of being a different race or color.
Segregation is not the answer.
Sandra Jensen, the president of the Omaha School Board, calls it a step back. "This is 2006, for goodness sake," Jensen says, "And what they've done is gone back to pre-Brown vs Board of Education."
"This is a dangerous sign of the fragmentation of the United States into separate racial communities," says Harvard University's Prof. Gary Orfield, adding, "It would be a horrible precedent."
Student Veronica Barrientos agrees. "In my opinion, I think it's an embarrassment," she says.
Some students, like Justin Blackson, fear it sends the wrong message. "That just kinda makes everything that our civil rights leaders did... kinda puts it in vain," he says.
Brown vs Board of Education
Plessy vs Ferguson
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans., case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954. Linda Brown was denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka because she was black. When, combined with several other cases, her suit reached the Supreme Court, that body, in an opinion by recently appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren, broke with long tradition and unanimously overruled the 'separate but equal' doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson, holding for the first time that de jure segregation in the public schools violated the principle of equal protection under the law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Responding to legal and sociological arguments presented by NAACP lawyers led by Thurgood Marshall, the court stressed that the 'badge of inferiority' stamped on minority children by segregation hindered their full development no matter how 'equal' physical facilities might be. After hearing further arguments on implementation, the court declared in 1955 that schools must be desegregated "with all deliberate speed."
Restricted in application to de jure (legally imposed) segregation, the Brown rule was applied mainly to Southern school systems. After strong resistance, which led to such incidents as the 1957 Little Rock, Ark., school crisis, integration spread slowly across the South, under court orders and the threat of loss of federal funds for noncompliance. The Brown decision gave tremendous impetus to the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and hastened integration in public facilities and accommodations. Segregation maintained by more subtle and intractable forces, however, has remained an important element in American society. De facto school segregation, caused by residential housing patterns and various other conditions rather than by law, has been attacked by the busing of students and other mechanisms.
The law, which opponents are calling state-sponsored segregation, has thrown Nebraska into an uproar, prompting fierce debate about the value of integration versus what Mr. Chambers calls a desire by blacks to control a school district in which their children are a majority.
Civil rights scholars call the legislation the most blatant recent effort in the nation to create segregated school systems or, as in Omaha, to resegregate districts that had been integrated by court order. Omaha ran a mandatory busing program from 1976 to 1999.
"These efforts to resegregate schools by race keep popping up in various parts of the country," said Gary Orfield, director of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard, adding that such programs skate near or across the line of what is constitutionally permissible. "I hear about something like this every few months, but usually when districts hear the legal realities from civil rights lawyers, they tend to back off their plans."
Nebraska's attorney general, Jon Bruning, said in a letter to a state senator that preliminary scrutiny had led him to believe that the law could violate the federal Constitution's equal protection clause, and that he expected legal challenges.
David Sokol, the chief executive of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, which employs thousands in Nebraska and Iowa.
"This is going to make our state a laughingstock, and it's going to increase racial tensions and segregation," Mr. Sokol said in an interview.
Brenda J. Council, a prominent black lawyer whose niece and nephew attend Omaha's North High School, said of the law, "I'm adamantly opposed because it'll only institutionalize racial isolation."
Other black leaders in Omaha criticized the new law.
"This is a disaster," said Ben Gray, a television news producer and co-chairman of the African-American Achievement Council, a group of volunteers who mentor black students. "Throughout our time in America, we've had people who continuously fought for equality, and from Brown vs. Board of Education, we know that separate is not equal. We cannot go back to segregating our schools."
Those against the Bill consider it state-sponsored segregation. In particular, Omaha Senator Pat Bourne warned, "We will go down in history as one of the first states in 20 years to set race relations back."
Bourne accuses Senator Chambers of ignoring the facts, and points out that contrary to Senator Chambers' assertions, schools have indeed already begun to successfully integrate: 58% of elementary schools, 64% of middle schools, and 74% of high schools have a more diverse student population than their surrounding neighborhoods, he said. In addition, he says that administrators already spend $1300 more per student in non-White areas. He also warns that under the new Bill, enrollment funding would not follow a student choosing to attend a different school, and that administrators would have the sole authority to determine when a school is at capacity. These points, he suggests, may create disincentives to go out of district, will not only result in more segregation, but also unequal funding.
Senator Gwen Howard of Omaha also opposes the Bill and articulated strong words once it passed: "History will not, and should not, judge us kindly." Still others are suggesting that the bill is in violation of the Constitution's equal-protection clause, and warn that lawsuits will almost certainly be filed.
It sounds as if this bill is allowed to stand, it could very well increase the difficulty and damage to schools. In doing this, funding would cut in schools per child, since schools get a certain amount per child that attends, separating them like this would cut funding for Black and Hispanic even more. The majority is 46% White, 31% Black, 20% Hispanic, and 3% Native American. If you separate along racial lines, making school districts of each race, for each race, then funding would reflect per student to each racially divided school district.
If the greater group per student is white, which district will get more money per student?
When the other districts are still failing, are still having problems, what will be blamed then?
Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, signed the measure into law. Sen. Pat Bourne of Omaha decried the bill, which passed 31-16. "We will go down in history as one of the first states in 20 years to set race relations back," the Democrat said. "History will not, and should not, judge us kindly," said Democratic Sen. Gwen Howard of Omaha.
I am sure this will be challenged Constitutionally, and I believe this will be over turned by the higher courts.
It seems there is already legal precedent in Brown vs Board of Education and Plessy vs Ferguson, that shows that this is unconstitutional. But I suppose that is for the higher courts to decide and interpret.
This does look bad for the school district and Omaha, even if deemed legal, which I don't think it will be, this still makes it look very bad for racial equality in Omaha, Nebraska.
Nebraska Bill LB1024 can be seen HERE (PDF Format)
Gov. Heineman's Statement Before Signing Schools Bill, LB 1024
Gov. Heineman's Statement on Second-Round Advancement of LB 1024
Gov. of Nebraska, Dave Heineman: Background
Others blogging this issue:
The Buck Stops Here (Has a good take on it), Beyond the Segregation/Integration Paradigm, The Return of Separate But Equal, Discriminations