In Fairfield, time to face the glaring racial imbalance in CT schools

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When Brown v. Board of Education was passed and public schools across the country slowly trod toward desegregation, many pro-segregation parents enrolled their children in private schools rather than allow them to share a classroom with black students. We can hear echoes of this sentiment in Connecticut School Board Chair Allan Taylor’s opposition to redistricting students in Fairfield.

The Connecticut Post reported on Jan. 4 that Taylor stated “We don’t want to create ghettoes in Fairfield” in response to filling 36 open seats at McKinley Elementary with students from outside of Fairfield to compensate for glaring racial imbalances in the school. He added “I don’t imagine it would, but that’s at the root of this.”

There is a lot at the root of this.

Students in diverse towns like Bridgeport have teachers who are expected to ration out two reams of paper over the course of a month, while students in Fairfield enjoy field trips, have access to their own textbooks and even computers.

Students in Bridgeport lack access to things students in Fairfield have come to expect as the bare minimum. Meanwhile the expectation for the bare minimum continues to shrink every year in Bridgeport. Public schools with high black and Latino populations are consistently gutted by budget cuts across Connecticut and expected to excel with the leftovers.

Minority students, particularly students with special education needs, are constantly shortchanged when it comes to equal access to public education.  The media and Board of Education leaders will point to Bridgeport’s dismal graduation rates and blame the students for their low test scores, for dropping out, for violence, but never blame the circumstances they’re forced to endure because of their zip code or the people like Allan Taylor who intentionally block students’ opportunities because of racist generalizations.

They won’t blame the fact that students in Bridgeport are expected to walk 1.5 miles to school or that new teachers in Bridgeport are paid significantly less than anywhere else in Fairfield County. They won’t discuss Bridgeport’s high teacher turnover rate due to dissatisfaction or the poor leadership in Bridgeport’s Board of Education. They won’t talk about the horrible shape these schools have been in physically and academically for decades.

Instead, people like Allan Taylor will cite the ghetto as the source of these problems, yet remain indignant about the concept of white privilege.  Towns like Fairfield will feign outrage about their university students throwing a ghetto party and yet unflinchingly accept Taylor citing not wanting ghettoes in Fairfield as a valid reason to oppose diversity in elementary schools.

There are no “barricades” in Connecticut towns like Fairfield or Westport keeping people of color out, but there are certainly barriers. Taylor’s words are one of the many reasons why racial disparities persist across the state. If school officials can keep these communities separate, if they can maintain the idea that people from places like Bridgeport are ghetto and therefore unfit to interact with Fairfield students, they are able to keep predominantly white communities insulated from diversity.

Taylor’s assumption that students of color attending schools in Fairfield will create ghettoes would be laughable if it wasn’t so blatantly racist, and coming from a state board chairperson for the Board of Education. Students from outside of Fairfield would bring excellence with them to McKinley, but are unfairly indicted by an official who believes their skin color will bring trouble.  The blatant institutional racism across the state is evident in the largest achievement gap in the country, Connecticut’s true shame.

Taylor is afraid of the ghetto coming to Fairfield because he, and so many other school officials will have to confront these inequities up close and either seek to take steps to correct them or continue to reinforce racist ideology through thinly veiled language and policies, as he did at this meeting.  These diverse students will force Taylor and his colleagues to come face-to-face with the consistent failings of the Board of Education and state officials to invest in minority students, which are essentially their own professional failures and poorly disguised racism.

Takina Pollock of Bridgeport is a professional in the nonprofit sector and master’s degree student at the University of Bridgeport.

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