Members of the Board of Education, the Metro Council and the office of Mayor Karl Dean appear to have moved on from the controversy and old wounds opened anew that last year’s school-rezoning plan wrought.
Clearly, leaders in the city’s African-American community have not forgotten about the plan or its implications. While the board, Council and Dean move on to other topics, Nashville’s black leadership continues to mobilize against what they call a re-segregation plan. Already, a complaint has been filed with the U.S. Department of Education. The local chapter of the NAACP is also gearing up for action.
In many, if not most, major American cities, the shameful specter of segregation has not really subsided in the minds of African-Americans. There are still very active, vibrant members of the community that recall the struggles of the Civil Rights movement and participated in those fights for equality.
The new plan calls for a sea change in policy now that Metro Nashville Public Schools is no longer under federal directives to bus students across town to achieve a racial balance in our public schools. The system will move away from comprehensive schools and toward neighborhood schools. The logic is that less travel time and distance between home and school will mean a better quality of life and more local engagement for families and students.
One side effect is that some schools in the city will see their percentage of minority students — in particular black students — increase. That, to some civil rights leaders in Nashville, appears to be a return to segregation. Certainly, given the history of civil rights struggles in this country and in this city, that feeling is quite understandable.
Originally, our newspaper advocated slowing down the process and working to achieve more support for the plan. That did not happen. Yet, board members have time before its implementation in the 2009-10 school year to work to ensure that this plan does not become a further source of controversy.
First and foremost, additional resources were promised by board members for the schools impacted by the rezoning plan in terms of higher percentages of minority students. Presently, those resources are on a capital needs wish list within the school system’s budget process. The board must work with Council to see that the promise is kept.
In addition, this new board — which neither created nor passed the plan — should reopen the public hearing process for the rezoning plan with new Director of Schools Jesse Register. The new leadership of the school system needs to take ownership of this plan, and in doing so perhaps they will also be able to reach some measure of compromise and communication with the African-American community the previous leadership overall failed to achieve.
Many in this country feel that America has entered a new age after this fall’s election. That may be the case, but at the local level, our city must remember its history when it acts to shape the future.