Last week’s Chatham County school board meeting centered on the decision to reopen schools this fall. Yet, there was also discussion regarding the 2021 school district for Seaforth High School. …
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Last week’s Chatham County school board meeting centered on the decision to reopen schools this fall. Yet, there was also discussion regarding the 2021 school district for Seaforth High School. I’m focused on this issue as a white parent living in the neighborhood of Briar Chapel.
In my subdivision, 92% of residents are white. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, Black Lives Matter signs sprang up in a fair percentage of yards across the neighborhood. When the HOA evoked a previously unenforced rule and threatened to impose fines on residents unless those signs were removed, a hue and cry was raised on social media.
Several news outlets (including the News + Record) picked up the story of what looked like a targeted effort against the Black Lives Matter movement. As of this writing, the HOA has backed off its threat and issued a public apology.
White people in Briar Chapel have power. Regarding the new school district of the high schools, we have the opportunity to show what matters to us.
Our students had attended Perry Harrison Elementary. This fall, our neighborhood was redistricted to the brand-new Chatham Grove Elementary School. While 27% of the students at Perry Harrison were children of color, the new school will be as white as Briar Chapel.
Though Briar Chapel is currently districted for Northwood High School, the school board is weighing a decision to move our students to Seaforth High School next fall. As a consequence of this reassignment, the percentage of Black students at Seaforth would be half of the percentage of Black students at Northwood (7% to 14%). The Chatham Park development is already in the Seaforth district, which means this high school will likely become even whiter in the near future.
Why does this matter? Every major academic indicator shows that Black students perform better in schools that are more fully integrated. Yet, public schools in the South are now segregated at levels before the historic 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education. Due to residential and school segregation, children of color are often isolated from opportunities and resources that impact their well-being and future.
I fully expect parents will make decisions based upon what is best for their children. I do the same for my own.
I do ask that white parents reconsider what we mean by “best” for our children. Northwood is an excellent high school. Does “best” always mean the newest, wealthiest, most high-tech?
Does “best” mean whitest? It has for a long time in our country.
But segregation contradicts the values of unity and equal opportunity that we espouse as a nation. Segregation supports notions of supremacy, whether explicitly stated or not. What gives my wife and I pause is that, especially since the novel coronavirus has limited us to our neighborhood, there are many days when the only people of color our children see are the women cleaning homes and the men cutting grass. The racial diversity in our children’s schools matters deeply.
I appreciate those Black Lives Matter lawn signs in my neighborhood. But I believe what’s “best” is to use our social, political and economic power to live in more fully integrated environments. In terms of our children’s racial consciousness, those are the lessons that will matter the most. As Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall predicted in 1974: “Unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.”
Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and author of Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems. He is currently working from home with his wife and three children.