Published: Nov 21, 2006 02:37 PM
Modified: Nov 21, 2006 02:37 PM
When the pilgrims and Indians were settling down for the first Thanksgiving meal, it was an incredible act of cooperation and civility. This event of sharing a meal is the example we most often reflect upon as demonstrating the respect that is possible between two different cultures and lays the vision of what is possible among our cultures today.
The significance of that first Thanksgiving played out again when in 1963, on the day before Thanksgiving and our nation was mourning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson went before Congress to rally lawmakers to honor our former president with the earliest possible passage of the Civil Rights Act that would prohibit discrimination for reasons of color, race, religion, or national origin in publicly financed institutes including but not limited to schools and recreational facilities.
Today, we are still considering the implications and possibilities for the Civil Rights Act that did pass in 1964. The definition of civil rights has been expanded beyond the constitutional rights of freedom to include providing a diverse learning environment.
On Dec. 4, there are two cases that will come before the U.S. Supreme Court for a ruling on the role affirmative action should play in student assignment. In the case of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, the court will rule on whether achieving a racially balanced school is constitutionally valid. In the case of Meredith, Crystal (next friend for McDonald, Joshua) v. Jefferson County Board of Education, et al., the court will review parents complaints of forced busing and intricacies involved in the magnet school application process as being a violation of their childs constitutional rights based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
In essence, these cases are adding more fuel to the disputes over racial discrimination by claiming that the Civil Rights Act has been wrongfully interpreted to mean that a valid method of assigning students to schools can be based on race for the sole merit of providing diversity to a particular school.
These discussions bring back memories of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that outlawed racially separate public schools. Since this ruling and the passing of the Civil Rights Act, policymakers have debated the pros and cons of this process that now leads to the drama unfolding soon in the Supreme Court.
Depending on the outcomes of these cases, the way most public schools manage assignments could change. In an effort to sway the Supreme Court ruling, several groups including the State Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps Commission are preparing amicus briefs urging the Court to uphold the constitutionality of the efforts of local districts to end segregation and preserve integration.
In Wake County, we count among our many blessings this Thanksgiving that our school system developed a means to provide diversity through socioeconomic measures by having a goal for individual schools to reflect a free and reduced lunch ratio of no greater than 40 percent of its student population and an achievement level of less than 25 percent of students below grade level. This method of school assignment is the best way to provide all students with equitable access to a quality education and to a great extent ends racial discrimination. Is this method perfect? No, it doesnt provide easily for the dilemmas brought by school overcrowding. Nor does it allow for every parent to be satisfied with the outcomes.
If you want to learn more or have ideas to create a healthy learning environment, be sure to attend the community engagement sessions that began earlier this week and continue after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Contact columnist Liza Weidle at email@example.com or http://home.nc.rr.com/lizaweidle/.
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