Opinion: "Racial imbalance: Hypocrisy of the law should be noted"
Like the state law that it attempts to defend, the Connecticut Post's July 2 editorial about the so-called "racial imbalance" at Fairfield's McKinley Elementary School -- and about my comments on the issue -- overlooks the big picture (a successful, diverse, popular school) in favor of education policy based solely on race.
Happily, the editorial staff of the Post's sister publication, the Fairfield Citizen, did their research before editorializing on the same issue in February. The Citizen wrote, --¦ it's a dangerous road to go down when we begin to identify individuals (particularly children) based solely on race; and then to use that information to make decisions about moving children around..."
While undoubtedly well-intentioned, Connecticut's racial imbalance law is poorly executed; it takes a one-size-fits-all approach to a challenge that has different effects in different communities. In Fairfield, this law has more often than not lead to "remedies" that force minority students out of their schools against the wishes of their parents.
In fact, when I was elected to the Fairfield Board of Education in 2003, the district was being sued by McKinley families who opposed a severe redistricting "swap" of half of McKinley's population with neighboring Stratfield School. This swap was a thinly veiled attempt by the prior Board of Education to move minority students out of McKinley to address the racial imbalance law.
The hypocrisy of the state law should be noted: Boards of Education must correct imbalances calculated solely by race, yet are (correctly in my opinion) prohibited from making redistricting decisions based on race.
My newly elected Board of Ed colleagues and I decided to address the parent lawsuit, compliance with the state law, and the achievement gap through a series of innovative, new programs rather than through racial gerrymandering.
We implemented pre-K programs at McKinley and Burr Schools open to students from low-income families. We added English as a second language classes for parents and partnered with Wakeman Boys and & Girls Club on a hugely successful mentoring program that paired McKinley children with teen mentors to work on homework, engage in sports and other after-school activities. We lowered the class size guidelines at McKinley and also created a resource club where parents could work with other parents to learn how best to help their children with homework.
Finally, we started an "opt in and out" choice program that allowed McKinley students to transfer out and gave the opportunity for students in Fairfield's other elementary schools to opt in to McKinley on a space available basis.
The innovative programs lead to an increase in test scores at McKinley, while the choice program slowly reduced the racial imbalance number.
Unfortunately, the improvement in the racial imbalance percentage was short-lived. Though McKinley parents could choose to send their children to other schools, ultimately few saw any reason to leave this diverse, successful, engaged school community. Because the racial imbalance law was not crafted with a community like Fairfield in mind, one minority family with two children moving into the district or two minority students from other schools choosing to "opt in" to McKinley was enough to tip McKinley back into the racially imbalanced category.
As the parent of a McKinley alumnus, I have always been an advocate for the school's close-knit parent-teacher-student community. I am proud to have worked hard in the effort to demolish the poorly maintained old McKinley building and replace it with a state of the art new school. It was truly rewarding to see the innovative programs we implemented produce positive results. But I'm still discouraged that no matter how much we achieve at McKinley, according to the state, it always comes down to racial statistics.
When I was an elected representative for the community surrounding McKinley, I felt helpless to assist parents who were justifiably afraid that their school community would be torn apart in an effort to comply with a state quota. While I suspect the framers of the racial imbalance law had just the opposite in mind, the fact is the statute requires us to judge students by the color of their skin alone. Because the law doesn't judge McKinley's success based on educational achievement I stand by my original comment: the law is a crock.
Brenda L Kupchick is a Representative Town Meeting (RTM) member, and a Republican candidate for state representative for Fairfield.