By Annie Goldman and Mira Cohen
SILVER SPRING, Md.– In the Spring of 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas to end segregation in public schools. 65 years later, American schools remain segregated, even in a politically liberal and ethnically diverse county like Montgomery.
There are a total of 165,380 students currently enrolled in Montgomery County Public Schools. Of those students, 27.7 percent are White, 31.3 percent are Latino/Hispanic, 21.6 percent are Black, 14.3 percent are Asian, and five percent are two or more races.
In 1961, Montgomery County Public School integration was declared complete. Yet, at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, students of color currently make up less than 33 percent of the population. In contrast, at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, students of color account for over 95 percent of the population.
By definition, de facto segregation is not supported by law. Nevertheless, it persists.
There aren’t any explicit edicts that force minority students to attend predominantly minority public schools, so why does it happen anyway?
Historically, racially restrictive home deeds have caused residential areas to be divided among ethnic groups. Public school boundaries often reflect the demographics of the neighborhoods they border, causing the district’s 25 school clusters to perpetuate the divisions.
The Montgomery County school board addressed the stark racial divides between schools at an open forum back in January, where it was decided that an outside consultant would study the possibility of boundary changes based on a student-pushed proposition resolution.
Caitlynn Peetz is an Education and Development Reporter for the Bethesda Beat. She has covered forums regarding desegregating MCPS, school board meetings, and racial equity conversations at the council level.
“That meeting [on the boundary study] was very tense. It’s really important to be clear that no matter what this consultant tells the school board, the school board doesn’t have to make any changes,” Peetz says. “They might, they might not.”
They’ll simply be given the information found in the analysis, and they can then determine whether or not they will take steps to actively integrate public schools.
Some believe that desegregation would allow students to interact with people that don’t look like them or live in different circumstances, something that research shows can increase empathy.
Additionally, integrating schools could improve the test scores and overall education of minority students by providing them with equitable resources.
Many fear that if a boundary shifts and homes are assigned to different schools, that will impact property values and children would be bussed too far.
“Parents with students in high achieving schools are concerned that the expectations will be lowered if students from lower performing schools are brought into their schools,” Peetz said.
A provisional report from the consultant is expected in February 2020, and the project is to be finalized by May.
“The students are really passionate about what they believe in,” said Peetz.
The school board says that it welcomes student opinions on all sides of this controversy and student activism is encouraged.