One Town, Two Schools

This post is long overdue.  First I wasn’t sure how to respond.  Then I was traveling. For a few days the blog was down due to a denial of service attack.  There was also a hefty amount of procrastination thrown in.  Truly it is the enemy of civilization.

The story which led to this post is as follows.  Back in May, the US District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi issued an order mandating the Cleveland School District desegregate.  Specifically, the order required the district to consolidate its two high schools and two middle schools.   People around town were not pleased.  The story quickly blew up.  Within days, the whole country was gawking at this backward Mississippi town which seemingly hadn’t quite heard of the whole civil rights thing.  Much of the coverage was decidedly unfavorable and often inaccurate.

As one might expect the issue goes back decades.  I’m not going to recount the whole history of desegregation here.  Others have done so well enough.   However the situation here prior to the ruling was as follows.  Contrary to what some have reported, the strict de jure segregation which once was a fact of life is a thing of the past.  There is one consolidated schools district.  Students have a choice as to which Middle School and High School they attend.  Some programs, for example the International Baccalaureate program, were only offered at one school.  So from a certain point of view, the schools were already desegregated.  People around town certainly believed so.

The Federal government saw things differently.  I’ve written before about the divisions in Cleveland.   They extend to education as well.   Let’s start with a map of the district: .  Look familiar?  Compare it to the dot Dot map of Cleveland, Mississippimap:

The pattern of building schools mirrors the racial make up of the town.  And to a certain extent so do the demographics of the student body for the schools themselves.  On the one hand school choice has been around for some time due to previous integration efforts.  As a result Cleveland High School, formerly all-white is now nearly 50% African American.  However East Side High School remains 100% African American.  The same is true of the middle schools.

Therein lies the real issue.  Past desegregation efforts have enabled the African American community to integrate.  However the white community has not done so.  Many people simply continue the same old patterns of life from years ago.  I have personally witnessed few, if any examples, of open racism.  However old habits die hard and bias works on an unconscious level.  Whether people admit it or not, true integration requires an active, on-going effort.  It’s not enough to just repeal the laws.  We have to take steps to overcome the assumptions we’ve grown up with and stop ourselves from passing them on to the next generation.  Hence the focus on education.  People who grow up in diverse environments have a very different view of the world than those from more homogeneous ones.

None of these issues are unique to Cleveland.  Much of the country is dealing with entrenched racism.    So Cleveland doesn’t have as big of a problem as a lot of other places.   Nevertheless people are concerned about the future.  The big fear is white flight.  If the integration plan goes forward many are afraid the remaining white population will flee to private schools.  Such has been the case elsewhere. Indeed there already is one such institution in town.  Only time will tell if Cleveland suffers a similar fate.  However as long as Delta State remains here the town as a whole will thrive.  And being isolated there are few places for people to “escape” to.  There are no suburbs to flee to or gated communities to wall oneself up in.  So the very nature of the Delta’s location might put a ceiling on white flight, should it materialize.

For now we all wait with bated breath.  The school district was required to submit its timeline for implementing the government’s plan several weeks ago.  Presumably they did so although there was talk of an appeal.  Regardless of what happens the local paper will probably cover it.  So I’m sure the outcome will penetrate even my newsless bubble.  In the mean time there is TFA, summer break, and the Fourth of July to worry about.

Article by Mike

Mike is the Head of Discovery Services for the Delta State University Library. He has lived in Cleveland since May 2013.

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