What & how I learned about resegregation of desegregated public schools
When I attended graduate school at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill I was parent of a son and a daughter who attended public schools. We lived in a Black neighborhood—Hope Valley North–in a gerrymandered Durham County school district adjacent to the elite Hope Valley Country Club community. As a parent, I learned how predominantly white schools that served the most privileged students maintained racial segregation. Having moved from the District of Columbia—also known as “Chocolate City”—my children had no experience with white supremacy culture in schools. We soon learned, based on their experiences as the only Black male in a math class, and one of a few Black 4th graders identified and placed in the class for “gifted” students, how resegregation worked. As a parent I learned that I could advocate for my own children, but was unable to effect change for other Black children in the same schools. I was active in the PTA and volunteered for playground duty at the elementary school during the day. As a graduate student, I had time when many other Black parents were at work. Eventually, my son transferred to the predominantly Black Durham City school system, as did most of the Black boys in our neighborhood. My daughter transferred to the Friends School, and eventually to the predominantly Black Durham City School system. While there is much I could say about each of these alternatives, I am writing now to explain how I became motivated to start AAERO.
When my children were no longer attending Durham County Schools (and less likely to be punished for my actions), I invited Black parents who lived in our neighborhood to come to my house and talk about their experiences with the schools. I learned from them that everyone had some experience that had resulted in their child’s exclusion from a group—band, cheerleading, or a club of interest. Each parent was unaware of how other children had experienced the same exclusionary message. Our children were disproportionately sent to in-school suspension (a punishment not documented in the reports to the U.S. Department of Education – Office for Civil Rights). After meeting with parents, another graduate student and I requested and convened a meeting with the principal and assistant principal of the high school. We presented data that we had obtained from the central administrative offices and asked them to explain why Black students were overwhelmingly overrepresented among those given in-school suspension. The principal (a white female) expressed surprise; the assistant principal (a Black male) who was not surprised, tried to justify the pattern.
I learned from this experience that while a group could get aggregate data and advocate for change, individual parents could make a difference if they knew what was happening and made demands on behalf of their own children. Student usually saw patterns, but had little power without support of their parents (many of who were embarrassed by their children’s apparent misbehavior). I decided to make this the subject of my dissertation research, and to do something to help Black teenagers and their parents see how they are being discriminated against in predominantly white schools. I wanted to help them become effective advocates for their education.
After completing my study, I was pessimistic about the possibility of changing desegregated, predominantly white schools. I decided that one way to serve Black students would be to create public charter schools. I wanted to replicate my best education experiences—those that used virtual platforms and intensive in-person sessions. I interviewed some students who were home-schooled using virtual schools to supplement what they got at home. I learned about home-school groups formed by affluent parents who hired private teachers for specialized classes. I thought about Black students who did not enjoy school and who could, in my opinion, benefit from a different model. Unfortunately, our charter school proposal did not get approved. Eventually, I formed a Board of Directors and did other things that we agreed could benefit Black students.
Paula Quick Hall