IF PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE TO SURVIVE…
Commentary by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….
Last week’s Blue Paper report on the re-segregation of Key West’s public schools has generated a lot of comments and questions. What makes the new charter schools so appealing to mostly white parents? The video of a recent fight at Key West High speaks for itself. Academics are a great concern for parents and so is safety.
We had previously received similar reports of kids ganging up on a lone student: Four kids had cornered him in the bathroom. They jumped him, shamed him, and shaved his eye brows. The mother told us on the phone that she complained to the school administration but that a week later the same kids attacked her son again and that this time they stole his $20-dollar bill during recess in front of everybody.
After talking with students we knew we called the mother back: “Ma’am, it’s really difficult to verify anything without your son’s name. The kids we talk to think that maybe those four are drug dealers and your son owes them money – [pause]– Money for drugs. Is that possible?”
“My son is a really good kid. My son does not do drugs.”
“How do you know?”
“I am taking him out of school.”
The problem for an investigative newspaper is that all of those disturbing reports we get about Key West’s public schools are unverifiable. Is a certain science teacher really stoned on a regular basis? Is it true that there are classes where the students do nothing but watch movies? Do kids sometimes OD in the hallways? Is nepotism and “bubaism” so pervasive that certain derelict administrators are simply unfireable?
School operations are completely opaque for the outside investigator. Schools claim they are just fulfilling their duty in protecting the privacy of the students but even the few public record requests that can’t legally be denied are reluctantly answered or not at all depending on how touchy the subject matter. Some would argue that student privacy is code word for complete lack of accountability.
One thing only is certain: now that charter schools are available in Key West, a good number of – mostly white – students have rushed out of public schools like rats out of a sinking ship.
It is the beauty of competition with one serious flaw: deliberately or not, this exodus is rapidly causing the re-segregation of the public-school system.
As we pointed out, the numbers are telling: At Sigsbee Charter School 64% of students are white [non-Hispanic] and 5% are black. At Gerald Adams Elementary, 22% are white [non-Hispanic] and 28.7 % are blacks.
Key West needs to take this issue seriously. Going back 40 years is not an option for our “One Human Family.” In the early 70’s the racial tension in Key West schools was so high that it often erupted in tribal fights between students. During one incident, in 1972, a fight between white and black students went completely out of control. The city police cordoned off Bahama Village for an entire week.
Despite the fact that some racist comments managed to pop up during the last presidential campaign, nobody can seriously doubt that only honest true integration is the way to a positive future.
In the comments responding to our article last week some white parents blame the black parents for not applying to the charter schools. But others point out the lack of buses to Sigsbee Charter School or the requirement for parents’ participation.
Of the many comments a few points of consensus have appeared: Very few parents trust HOB Middle School. The sun seems to still be shinning on Gerald Adams Elementary School (even though it teaches to the highest proportion of black and Hispanic low-income students).
Finally, the Key West public school system needs to do some serious soul-searching. There is a need for open debate, for workshops, transparency, new ideas, reforms. Parents and students need to be able to come forward without fear of retaliation and report on the deficiencies of the system.
There should be real outreach into the black community to honestly address the racial diversity issue. There should be a good-faith effort to hire black teachers. The curriculum should not be entirely focused on admission to college. The programs should foster in students the unquestionable certitude that staying in school will result in a better future. Finally, the School District should hold charter schools to their statutory obligation to mirror local racial diversity.
The general consensus is that the public-school system is not good enough for any students regardless of the color of their skin.
If the public-school system is to survive, it needs to embrace the competition and reform its methods. It must create new programs including vocational training. As a society, we must make sure public funds provide equal opportunities for students according to their merits, rather than according to their race or according to their parents’ commitment or ability to partner with school administrators. This is Key West. We can do this.
Kudos to these KWPD officers. Compared with other cities where officers are seen pulling tasers, guns, pepper spray, throwing punches at students, these officers took control of the situation without injuring anyone.
[Note: this editorial has been updated.]