May 17, 1954: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation in public school systems as unconstitutional in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka landmark case, paving the way for integrated schools.
Fast forward 63 years.
That road to achieving desegregated schools and equal education persists.
In fact, Long Island school segregation is double the national average, and Nassau County is almost triple, according to the Inter-district and Intra-district Segregation on Long Island 2012 study conducted by Douglas Ready, an assistant professor of Education at Columbia University.
The study also found that school districts, as a whole, are segregated from one another, not the schools within the same district. Also, black and white segregation on Long Island is worse than Hispanic and white segregation, but Hispanic and white segregation has been increasing.
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Douglas said the students are affected in three different ways: the teacher quality varies with successful teachers working in whiter suburban schools, physical resources are short in supply, and there’s less access to peer and adult networks, leading to less opportunities for minority students.
The educational inequities are explicitly shown through the graduation rates. Based on graduation rates, 28 percent of white, 30 percent of Asian, 3 percent of black, and 5 percent of Hispanic students on Long Island attended the highest-performing school districts, according to the 2009-2010 New York State School Report Card Database.
Chart: Briana Smith; Source: ERASE Racism
“Racial achievement gap is due to segregation,” Christopher Verga said, an American history lecturer at Suffolk County Community College and author of the book Civil Rights on Long Island. “You have kids being taught certain ways, and they’re not being taught the right way. You have some teachers who are setting the bar lower for minority students; you can’t do that.”
He also said the lack of diversity in public schools affects students socially and psychologically.
“The racial segregation and biracial identity conflicts because a lot of biracial kids and even adults, they have to walk on line to who they talk to: Are they going to be white today? Are they going to be black today?” Verga said, who ensures his own biracial daughter will attend a diverse school. “This sounds disgusting, but it’s true…The segregation in Long Island forces that.”
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Twenty-eight-year-old Tova Harris agreed that she was confused about her identity and never felt accepted while attending Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, N.Y., which is predominantly white.
Tweny-two-year-old Elijah McDonnaugh also remembered the isolation and the bullying he experienced while attending predominantly black or white private schools across Long Island. He recalled an incident in middle school when three of his friends confidently expressed they would never let their daughter marry a black man. They immediately looked in his direction and initiated an argument regarding race at the age of eleven, or in high school, when a student accused his family for voting for Barack Obama.
“I always believed that white students are paying a big price from segregation as well,” Lawrence Levy said, the executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. “Yes, they are shielded from all the tensions and high crime rates and streets without trees and parks that have broken benches and basketball courts, but they also lose a chance to learn how to get along with people who are different than them.”
Racial segregation exists in 125 public Long Island school districts due to prejudice housing patterns. After WWII, housing developments were designed to keep the white and minority population separate. Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1968, banning discrimination in the sale and rental of housing based on race, national origin, color, religion and sex, residential segregation continued, creating school segregation and education inequities.
Ninety-one percent of students in high-need school districts are black and Latino, according to Heading in the Wrong Direction: Growing School Segregation on Long Island 2015 study conducted by ERASE Racism New York, a non-profit organization that focuses on eliminating racial disparities in housing, communities and schools. This hinders racial and ethnic minority students’ ability to receive equal and sufficient education and opportunities, which in the future, creates an economic disaster for all.
In order to integrate schools and achieve education equities, ERASE Racism created the Education Equity Initiative, which will coordinate educational campaigns regarding the advantages of diverse settings, policy advocacy, professional development for teachers and more.
“I really hope that…we will have more and more examples of how the students have positive experiences in learning, and socially and emotionally, in being with students that are different from themselves,” Elaine Gross said, the president of ERASE Racism.
Gross said if they can prove that students succeed in racially diverse schools, it will make it harder for parents to argue this school setting is unsafe for their children or that it’s hindering their academic achievements.
“I think that we need to find as many opportunities as we can,” Gross added. “To be able to point and say, ‘See, that’s working.’”