In 1951, a class action suit was filed against the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. The plaintiffs were thirteen Topeka parents on behalf of their 20 children. What a strong example of parental engagement this landmark case models for us, right? This case models so much of what should be in the United States but the reality is that equity in education, the heart of this case, is not much better today than it was in 1951.
I always thought it was cool that the name “Brown” was in Brown v Board of Education. After all, the case did help Black and Brown people get integrated schools Simplistic connection, I know. As much as I’d heard of the case throughout my pre-service teaching classes, I didn’t know too much about the actual person behind the name Brown — just that her name was Brown. That was good enough for me. After all, it was the ruling in the case that mattered most, right?
I thought so until I learned a few weeks ago that Linda Brown had just died. She was alive all these years? I could have met and spoken to her and I didn’t? I felt robbed. I’d never heard of Linda Brown before, and now she is gone. I wanted to know more about her. I began to do my research about yet another Black woman who was an unsung hero in education, politics, and American history. Your labor was not in vain, Ms. Brown — or was it?
According to Erase Racism, school segregation on Long Island is on the rise. Today, dramatically more Black and Hispanic students attend segregated public schools than 12 years ago. Even though Long Island students are more diverse overall, there has been a significant increase in the proportion of students attending racially segregated schools.
I am a product of Long Island schools, attending for my entire K-12 career. In fact, both schools of higher education that I attended were on Long Island. You don’t have to do an in-depth study about Long Island schools to see that segregation is very much alive there. At first glance, it is obvious that Long Island has, by way of inextricably linking where one lives with where one has to attend school, reversed what Linda Brown and her parents fought for over 50 years ago. In the NYC Department of Education, after elementary school, students can choose to apply to whatever traditional or charter school they want. School assignments are not based on where you live. If a student wants to travel two hours away to get to a school that offers a program of interest, they are free to do so.
I like that about NYC schools; however, that is not the case on Long Island. Zoning laws make sure that the “good kids” and the “bad kids”, the “rich kids” and the “poor kids”, the Black Kids and the White Kids, never meet — at least not in the school hallways!
It bothers me that this is even legal! Is this legal? How have Nassau and Suffolk Counties managed to effectually circumvent a federal educational law? What happened to Brown v BOE? Is this how we plan to pay homage to Linda Brown and all those who fought for equity in education?