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What About Educational Segregation? (Installment No. 1): Schools' Race Study Outlined

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What About Educational Segregation? (Installment No. 1)

Schools’ Race Study Outlined

(Editor's note:  This is the first installment in the report of the citizens committee to study radical distribution in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.)

Racial distribution in the public schools has been a matter of growing concern to the Ann Arbor Board of Education.  It has shared this concern with school boards throughout the country.  The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, holding racial segregation in public schools when required by law, violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, served as a catalyst for the examination of the whole problem of racial segregation in the schools, and helped to spark the movement now in progress for securing equality of right and privilege, regardless of race or color.

Although the board's interest extends to the racial factor in all of its educational aspects and implications, it has been especially concerned with the problem of racial imbalance as it exists in the school system, particularly as it may result in a pattern of racial segregation in any specific school, and in educational disadvantage arising from or identifiable with such segregation.

The very high ratio of Negro children at Jones School, grossly disproportionate to the ratio of Negro children to the total enrollment in the Ann Arbor School District, has led the Board of Education to designate Jones School as a "de facto" segregated school.

In order to enlist community interest in the problem of racial imbalance in the public schools and to secure the benefit of the views of a citizen's group, the Board of Education authorized the creation of a citizen's committee with the responsibility of studying the problems and of making recommendations to the Board.

It should be made clear at the outset in this report submitted by the committee that the charge given to it was a wide one.  As stated in the board's resolution and in the letter of appointment sent to the members, the committee's responsibility is "to study the distribution of racial population in the public schools of Ann Arbor and to make recommendations accordingly."

This point is emphasized since the committee has at times been identified as the "Jones School Committee."  To be sure the committee has devoted a major share of its time and attention to Jones School since it presents the most conspicuous instance of racial imbalance in the Ann Arbor public school system and since the Board of Education by designating it as a "de facto" segregated school has singled it out for special attention.  But the total charge to the committee extends beyond the special and specific problems arising from racial imbalance at Jones School.

The committee has viewed its responsibility as extending to the problem of racial imbalance as it exists at other schools, particularly Mack School.  Moreover, the Committee has interpreted its charge to extend also to the related questions of the total contribution the public educational system can make in combating the evils of racial discrimination.

The committee has been meeting regularly once a week since early October, 1963.  At the outset the committee was given the benefit of studies and reports made by the administrative staff of the school system relating to racial distribution in the schools, the result of tests measuring the relative educational achievements of Negro children in the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and other relevant data.

In order to acquaint itself as thoroughly as possible with the problems involved and particularly with the Jones School situation the committee invited school personnel with special knowledge and experience to meet with the committee and to give the committee the benefit of their knowledge, experience and opinions in appraising ways and means of dealing with the problems.

Included in this group were Robert Stevenson, principal of Jones School, Harry Mial, school psychometrist and former classroom teacher at Jones School, and Miss Marion Cranmore, principal of Burns Park School.  Leonard Hoag, principal of Forsythe School and a member of the committee, reported on the experimental program for pre-school children in connection with the Perry School in Ypsilanti.

William Morse of the University's School of Education discussed with the committee the educational factors involved in dealing with the problem of racial segregation in the schools and reported on plans being tried in various communities to deal with the problem.  Leonard Sain, educational specialist, and now serving as special assistant to the U-M director of admissions, also met with the committee and discussed at  length the problems of dealing with racial imbalance in the public schools.

President Albert Coudron, Dr. Alexander Gotz, and Lloyd Williams, all of the Board of Education, served as ex officio members of the committee, took part in the discussion and made available to the other committee members their knowledge and understanding with respect to board policies.  Jack Elzay, superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools, was kept advised of the committee's deliberations and met with the committee at its later meetings in order to advise the committee on administrative aspects of various proposals being considered as a means of dealing with the racial imbalance problem.

It should be made clear, however, that Elzay and the members of the Board of Education who served on the committee acted in the capacity of resource and advisory personnel and that the committee has been completely free in conducting its study and in reaching its conclusions.

On the basis of the information, experts knowledge and views presented to it, supplemented by information and reports from various sources, the committee has spent many hours in its efforts to appraise the significance of the data presented to it, to evaluate both the total picture with respect to racial imbalance in the public school system and the special problems presented at Jones and Mack Schools, to determine the educational issues at stake, and to identify as precisely as possible the nature of the problems arising out of and associated with racial imbalance in the school system, and to consider and to weight alternative proposals for dealing with the problems.

Its finding, its understanding of the critical problems, its evaluation of various proposals and its recommendations are set forth in parts of this report that follow.

This introductory part of the report may appropriately be concluded with some general observations:

1)  The Ann Arbor Board of Education should be commended for its sense of serious concern with the problem of racial imbalance as it affects educational opportunities and objectives.

2)  Any pattern of racial segregation that appears in the Ann Arbor school system is not the result of any racially discriminatory policy followed by the Board of Education, but rather is the result of a pattern of residential segregation combined with the pattern of the neighborhood school system.  However, it should be pointed out that the board and public must share the responsibility for permitting the situation to reach the stage where action such as is here recommended must be taken.

3)  The consideration of the problem of racial imbalance, particularly as it results in a so-called "de facto" segregated school, should be directed to the basic educational aspects of the problem and to the question of wise and responsible policy to be exercised by the board in dealing with it.  Any racial segregation of schools b force of law is unconstitutional.  Whether "de facto" segregation arising out of a pattern of racially segregated housing and not attributable to a state law or policy requiring such segregation is unconstitutional or otherwise illegal is question to which the final answer has not been given.

In any event it should be made clear that this committee's report is not premised on assumption that there is a constitutional duty to end "de facto" segregation in the public schools. The emphasis in this report is on the responsibility of the board and the community in meeting the problem in the context of the great movement of our day to secure equal rights and privileges for all citizens regardless of race or color.

Next:  Statistical findings behind school segregation.