2014 Elections / Hampton Roads / Local / Politics / Virginia

Coleman on desegregation

WayneColeman6th Senate district Republican candidate Wayne Coleman raised some eyebrows with his comments on John Frederick’s radio show this week.

I’m old enough to have lived during the desegregation of the schools here locally. And busing children, in my opinion, around the different districts, getting them out of their local neighborhoods, really was the beginning of the decline in some of the school districts.

Listen for yourself.

I’m not sure why Coleman went there. Besides, he’s wrong.

I lived through the desegregation of the schools as well. Coleman, 11 years my senior, has an experience I don’t: I never attended segregated schools. When I started first grade in 1966, Hampton was already in the midst of desegregating its schools. For a couple of years, we had “freedom of choice,” that is, we could attend any school we wanted. In the fall of 1968, Hampton Public Schools implemented busing, which was in place through my remaining years of school.

Norfolk had busing as well. I remember living in Ocean View in the early 1980s and the kids from my part of town – mostly white, lower income kids – were being bused to the other side of town. But by that time, the white flight had already occurred. To try to convince whites to move back to the city (moderately successful) and to enroll their kids in public school (a dismal failure), Norfolk implemented neighborhood schools in 1986, essentially re-segregating the public elementary schools.  I argued strenuously with my friend, Bob Hicks, who was on the school board at the time, against it. Until our neighborhoods were socioeconomically mixed, it didn’t make sense to cluster all of the students with the same backgrounds in a single school.

Growing up poor, I understood the value of being exposed to things that were outside of my neighborhood. And school was the place where I was able to see the possibilities. Had I been confined to attending schools just with kids from my neighborhood, I may have succumbed to the same things that keep people in poverty, generation after generation. (This New York Times article makes the point.)

School systems didn’t decline with desegregation. They did so with socioeconomic re-segregation, because, for the most part, the only kids left in public schools are the ones who can’t get out. Norfolk remains a socioeconomically segregated city. It’s the lack of the great melting pot that has created this mess in Norfolk. Just look at the poverty statistics: 56.3% of Norfolk’s students qualify for free lunch, a number that reaches over 90% at several of Norfolk’s schools. Poverty, not desegregation, is the primary reason for the failure.

The answer does not lie with a takeover by Richmond, which is part of what I think Coleman was trying to say. Local issues require local decisions and the legislature needs to support these local efforts, rather than trying to impose a -one-size-fits-all approach.

A representative of the people has a responsibility to see things as they are, not that of their own personal experience, while maintaining a vision for what can be. I don’t know Coleman personally, but those that do tell me he’s a pretty smart guy. This was a bone-headed statement from a pretty smart guy.

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “Coleman on desegregation

    • One of the problems with you, Warren, is that instead of saying “I disagree with your assessment and think….” you have to take the attitude that only your answer is correct. As is typically the case, it is not.

      In this case, I was quite clear that Norfolk has not had busing at the elementary school level for nearly 20 years. Coleman obviously is not aware of that. Were he, he wouldn’t have ever made that statement.

      If Norfolk had citywide busing at all levels, then your takeaway would be accurate. But it does not. And the busing that is done – for middle and high schools – is not done for purposes of desegregation. There simply are not neighborhood middle and high schools.

      • I disagree with your assessment and think that, returning to his statement, the decline started with busing, which undermined local control. That local control never returned even when busing was eliminated.

        • He was very specific that it started with busing: “Busing children, in my opinion, around the different districts, getting them out of their, uh, local neighborhoods, really was the beginning of the decline in some of the school districts.”

        • Busing was done under local control. The local school boards made those decisions. And it was locals who influenced those decisions. The poor kids were the ones bused, while the rich kids stayed in their neighborhood schools.

  1. I can tell you why he went there, I think. I had breakfast with Wayne a couple weeks ago to see if he would campaign on an elected school board referendum in exchange for a delay in the OEI takeover of the failing schools here. During the conversation, I went into detail about how a major problem in Norfolk is that we have seriously racially gerrymandered attendance zones that have not been changed for 30 years, mainly because of fears over re-segregation. This has lead to some schools being severely overcrowded while others are severely underutilized according to a study the district commissioned by MGT of America several years ago.

    I think that’s the point he was trying to get at, but he failed miserably. That’s what happen when you don’t make understanding the issues and having an actual platform a priority. Wayne thinks knowing/going into specifics isn’t worth his time because he thinks people won’t/don’t/have enough time to understand them. He’s wrong and if he doesn’t figure that out he will most likely lose.

      • Actually I was referring to people like Paul Riddick who raise the specter of re-segregation every time I’ve heard someone mention school redistricting at city council meetings. But yes, you’re right, the elementary schools are racially segregated. To a large extent, so are all the schools in Norfolk. Somewhere I’ve got a census block map color coded for race overlayed with the school zones that shows it very starkly.

        Here’s the study, its old, but I’m sure things have only gotten worse.

        http://www.nps.k12.va.us/images/2007/pdf/2936nps_mgtfinalrpt.pdf

  2. Vivian, I think both you and Roger Chesley are so far off base on this one, you’re not even on the same planet.

    Coleman said, “And busing children, in my opinion, around the different districts, getting them out of their local neighborhoods, really was the beginning of the decline in some of the school districts” which is really nothing more than a reference to a period of time in history. It has nothing to do with the effects (positive/negative/none at all) of segregation or busing, but is merely a reference to when he believes that school performance started to decline.

    I think it’s irresponsible for those of you in the media who have the power to shape public opinion one way or the other to infer that Coleman was making a broader statement about busing and further, school segregation or integration which carries it’s own racial undertones-he said nothing of the sort.

    Even the title of your article is misleading-“Coleman on Segregation” His comments had nothing whatsoever to do with segregation one way or another.

    Do you dispute that Norfolk Public Schools are failing and if so, when do YOU think the decline began? If you believe that poverty is the real reason for the decline in public education, are you telling me that we didn’t have poor people BEFORE busing began? Busing which got it’s start in the late 1960’s to achieve integration and it started right about the time of the “Great Society” social programs, so if someone makes any reference to that period of time when the policies of the “Great Society” being at the heart of our socioeconomic problems began, are you going to take them to task? More importantly, will you mislead your readers with a story subject that infers it is a racial issue when it is not?

    True, a representative has a duty to see things as they are and how legislation or policy will affect ALL of their constituents now and in the future. But part of how a person views things is based on the experiences and observations of their own lifetime and just as you do, the sum total of your life experiences forms your view of the world around you.

    Both you, Roger Chesley and others at the Pilot seem so wrapped up in telling the public how this candidate or that candidate “should” have responded and what YOU think is the correct response, but I can’t recall ever seeing YOUR name on a ballot anywhere?

    It doesn’t change the fact that Norfolk Public Schools most certainly ARE failing and you don’t seem as concerned about that or what can be done about it as you are in taking someone you don’t know to task or such a non-issue.

    • I’m guessing you missed this http://bearingdrift.com/2013/12/12/coleman-commits-major-gaffe-on-race/

      And you mistated the title – it does NOT say “segregation” it says DESEGREGATION – a really big difference.

      Finally, I think you missed this completely

      The answer does not lie with a takeover by Richmond, which is part of what I think Coleman was trying to say. Local issues require local decisions and the legislature needs to support these local efforts, rather than trying to impose a -one-size-fits-all approach.

    • “Coleman said, “And busing children, in my opinion, around the different districts, getting them out of their local neighborhoods, really was the beginning of the decline in some of the school districts” which is really nothing more than a reference to a period of time in history. It has nothing to do with the effects (positive/negative/none at all) of segregation or busing, but is merely a reference to when he believes that school performance started to decline.

      …Your contention is that the meaning of the sentence wouldn’t have functionally changed at all if Coleman had picked literally anything else that happened in the year of 1971 and identified that as the precipitating moment when public education in Norfolk went sideways because that sentence was not meant to suggest a causal link?

      “And the publication of the Pentagon papers, in my opinion, in the New York Times, getting them out of their sphere of defense policy makers, really was the beginning of the decline in some of the school districts?”

    • Busing didn’t really remove children from neighborhood schools until they hit high school, at least in Norfolk. By that time, if you’re a failing student, you’re a failing student. Not much you can do at the high school level for someone who didn’t get the needed attention in middle and elementary school. That’s why 9th grade classes in Norfolk are 2-4x the size of senior classes. And even then, most neighborhoods still stayed together during busing, depending on how you define the term. The serious issues now are with putting certain public housing projects together in the same attendance zones. Supposedly for fear of gang activity.

      And for the record, the decline in our schools started as soon as our economy began to move past manufacturing. Though technically I would contend that our schools never really declined, they just stayed the same while the rest of the world and the requirements of the modern workforce moved past them.

  3. Years ago I was working in a local school. The students totaled 34. Of these 30 children were from single parent homes or in foster care. Lack of 2 parent families is arguably the leading cause of poor school performance and lack of social skills and poor conduct. There are many other factors but this always struck me as the most significant.

Comments are closed.