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You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow!

Jean Birkenstein Washington

Boston Herald

MSNBC feature

Robin Washington

Move new two-high school boundary to Lake Avenue
Duluth News Tribune, June 15, 2007

Before the Duluth School Board votes next week on the long-term facility plan likely to see the closure of one of the cityís three high schools, itís time for the school administration to make a small but significant tweak to the proposal: Move the 14th Avenue East boundary line between the east and west side high school districts to Lake Avenue, the cityís official zero line.

Itís not a matter of normalizing the map to match the geographic intentions of long-ago city planners, but a crucial change necessary to bring the city together. As has been well publicized in these pages, the proposed 14th Avenue East boundary would result in a serious demographic imbalance between the two schools along racial and economic lines.

A drastic 44 percent of the west high school students would be participants in free or reduced lunch programs, compared with only 15 percent at the east side school. Racially, the west Duluth school would have a student body 16 percent minority versus only 7 percent at the new east school.

And thatís called segregation ó de facto segregation, but segregation nonetheless, something no school district should be in the business of creating or perpetuating and something that should be unimaginable in a city roughly 94 percent white. Itís also a practice that the school district is obliged to eliminate when accepting desegregation money from the state.

If in perception only, there is another reason to move the 14th Avenue East boundary. Leaders of Duluthís NAACP chapter maintain that the street once served as an unofficial line east of which African American homebuyers were not shown properties for sale. A longtime Duluth real estate broker disputes the contention. Yet there have been documented cases of black homebuyers experiencing difficulties in the eastern reaches of the city, whether demarcated by 14th Avenue East or not. There is no reason for the district to perpetuate the perception and its attendant baggage, myth or not.

Fifty-three years of experiments gone right and wrong since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education have shown unquestionably that racially defined school districts affect the demographics of neighborhoods and vice versa. School administrators are in a position to either make permanent or help remove those boundaries. Itís time to do the right thing and unite Duluth.

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