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Saturday 23 October 2021
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Public Education And The Black Class Divide


Editorial by Howard J. Eagle

Howard Eagle

I’m not sure whether or not we’re really paying close attention to all that’s happening in the Rochester City School District (RCSD), some of which is clearly diabolical in nature, even more so than usual. 

For example, with the coming of covid, and the recently, greatly exacerbated, old, old transportation crisis — some very problematic, deep-seated, issues that normally go undiscussed in the Black community, are fast becoming part of the public narrative. This includes the long-standing (at least five decades old), greatly increased socioeconomic class gulf and divide, which is beginning to bring into question the value and “sacredness” of programs such as the oldest urban/suburban educational program in the nation. That’s right, the one right here in Monroe County.

In the face of ongoing attempts to bring the RCSD’s long-standing transportation-budgetary problems, and general crisis under control, it was recently recommended to the Rochester Board of Education by a RCSD administrative task force during an October 5th Special Business Meeting of the Policy and Audit Committee, that the Board considers eliminating the provision of transportation for RCSD students who attend charter and private schools outside of Rochester, as well those who participate in the Urban/ Suburban program, the latter of which was established in Monroe County on the heels of racial unrest and upheaval in 1965, making it the nation’s oldest so-called school “desegregation program.” The proposal regarding the potential cut would reportedly impact “approximately 3,500 students in Urban-Suburban, private, parochial, and charter schools outside the city.”

Reportedly, “the proposal would also formally end the district’s practice of providing a bus for some students who live less than 1.5 miles from their school, even though the state does not reimburse that expense.” This is quite interesting, especially when considering it has already been implemented. So the operative term is “formally.”

It was announced weeks ago that this service would be cut, which is just one more indicator of how little District officials really care about our students, especially and particularly those from families that are least organized, and represent the least path of resistance. It’s important to note that the reason why these students were being provided transportation in the first place was not because the RCSD was legally required to provide it, but rather because the overwhelming majority of them live in the most dangerous city neighborhoods, in which it is not safe to stand on certain corners, and wait for school buses, and/or walk to school. However, when increased budgetary pressure is on, again, these children and families represent the political path of least resistance.

When an administrative task force makes recommendations (supported by the Superintendent), which call for considering cutting transportation that’s provided for RCSD students attending Urban-Suburban, private, parochial, and charter schools outside the city, that’s a clear indicator of just how deep and serious the transportation, budgetary crisis really is. The latter groups of students represent what many consider as being the RCSD’s cream-of-the-crop, and surely represents the most well organized, well educated, well resourced and staunchest path of resistance, which is why Board President Van White reportedly declared he feared such a move would “cut off parents’ opportunity to successfully educate their children. When we say we’re going to eliminate transportation for Urban -Suburban … What that does is pull the rug out from some parents who looked at our district and said — and understandably so — there’s not enough options for my kids.”  

Hopefully, we understand that this is, in some ways, a very criminal-like, and definitely classist statement. The Statement posits that roughly 3,500 RCSD students and families,e.g. ‘the cream-of-the-crop “understandably [deserve] options,” but apparently the other 22,000+ don’t.

Additionally, it was reported that: “Some private and parochial schools would struggle to remain open without RCSD students arriving on buses. St. Ambrose Academy, for instance, is just a few feet over the city line on Empire Boulevard and draws two-thirds of its student body from Rochester, according to state data. Bishop Kearney, also in Irondequoit, draws 28% of its students from Rochester.” 

So, as City residents, do we understand that our tax dollars are supporting public and private schools in relatively wealthy towns such as Penfield, Irondequoit, and Greece — the latter of which reportedly has about 1,700 RCSD students in charter schools? To add insult to injury, reportedly, “many suburban districts have made it clear their participation in Urban-Suburban depends on the program not costing them any money.” How criminal. 

Even though the idea behind so-called racial integration within public schools is supposedly designed to benefit all participating students, yet, the wealthy lily-white suburban districts have made it clear that the poorer, predominantly Black district must pay-to-play (so to speak). Talk about Robin Hood in reverse, this is an exemplary case. It also illuminates institutional and structural racism within public education, and classism within relatively poor urban schools and districts.

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Howard Eagle is a longtime educator and local anti-racism advocate, known for his campaigns for the Rochester school board and prolific political and social commentary. Eagle taught social studies in the RCSD for 23 years, before retiring in 2010, and is now an adjunct professor in the Department of African American Studies at SUNY Brockport.

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(The views expressed on our opinion pages are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or viewpoint of the Minority Reporter.)