February 25, 2016
(ANTIMEDIA) St. Louis, MO — An African-American third-grader in St. Louis, Missouri will be unable to continue attending his charter school due to a decades-old federal court decision intended to fight segregation. Edmund Lee, a high-performing student at Gateway Science Academy, will be forced to leave the school he has attended since kindergarten because he and his mother, La’Shieka White, are moving away from the district where the school is located. Though policy guidelines, pursuant to the court decision, allow students to stay if they move, a provision specifically states he cannot — because he is black.
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“When I read the guidelines I was in shock,” White said. “I was crying.”
Though media outlets, including Salon, have reported this anachronistic decision to be a result of state law, the policy is actually a result of a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling from 1980 in response to a 1972 lawsuit challenging segregation. In 1983, a desegregation settlement agreement was reached that included “the transfer of black city students into primarily white suburban districts and white suburban students into magnet schools in the city,” explains the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation, the organization tasked with overseeing the implementation of the 1983 settlement. Until 1999, VICC stood for the Voluntary Interdistrict Coordinating Council, but in 1999, it became a non-profit corporation and the name was changed.
Kurt Fuchs, an employee with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MDESE), told Anti-Media that Edmund will be able to finish his current semester at Gateway Science Academy, but noted he will have to relocate to a new school next year. He explained that the 1983 settlement agreement was reached when St. Louis’ demographic was predominantly black, and the court decision sought to implement what could be called reverse discrimination.
Sarah Potter, a communications coordinator for the MDESE, explained the settlement initiated transfers intended to equalize race distribution in schools. She said when the agreement was drafted, the region had predominantly white suburbs and predominantly black cities, a demographic the settlement sought to change.
Though the agreement was intended to undo segregation, more than 30 years later it has become a justification for it. Edmund’s mother expressed a broad view of the issues with the court-mandated policy.
“I don’t want it to be just about an African-American boy,” she said. “I want it to be about all children.”
Staff at the charter school are also dismayed at the way the decades-old policy is now perpetuating the very discrimination it was intended to prevent.
“If this helps us start a conversation about maybe some things that could be different with the law, then that is as good thing,” said Assistant Principal Janet Moak.
Tiffany Luis, Edmund’s third grade teacher, said, “To not see his face in the halls next year would be extremely sad.”
David Glaser, VICC’s chief executive officer, told Anti-Media they are unable to challenge the policy.
“I understand why people would like to do [something] different, but there isn’t anything I can do — or that anyone can do — because we are all under the constraints of the decision, and it’s our job to follow the law,” he said. He suggested it is unlikely an exception will be made for Edmund because the court’s decision — and the subsequent 1983 desegregation agreement — are legally binding federal court mandates. “It’s not like we can unilaterally change it,” he said.
As of Thursday afternoon, a petition seeking to allow Edmund to continue his studies at Gateway has garnered over 35,000 signatures. In spite of public outcry, however, it appears that for now, the anti-segregation policy will continue to enforce discrimination.
Glaser noted that even the state legislature can’t do anything because the state of Missouri signed the agreement when it was crafted.
As Tiffany Luis said, “The family is saying they want to stay. I don’t understand why they can’t.”
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