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Resegregation of U.S. schools deepening

Districts in big cities of the Midwest and Northeast undergo the most change.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 25, 2008

Louisville, Miss.: Schools in rural districts like this actually tend to be more integrated.

Melanie Stetson Freeman – staff

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At one time, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina was a model of court-ordered integration.

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Today, nearly a decade after a court struck down its racial-balancing busing program, the school district is moving in the opposite direction. About half of its elementary schools have 10 percent or fewer white students or 10 percent or fewer African-American students. [Editor's note: The original version overstated the number of segregated schools.]

"Charlotte is rapidly resegregating," says Carol Sawyer, a parent and member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Equity Committee.

It's a trend that is occurring around the country and is even more pronounced than expected in the wake of court cases dismantling both mandated and voluntary integration programs, a new report says. The most segregated schools, according to the report, which documents desegregation trends, are in big cities of the Northeast and Midwest. The South and West – and rural areas and small towns generally – offer minority students a bit more diversity.

Suburbs of large cities, meanwhile, are becoming the new frontier: areas to which many minorities are moving.

These places still have a chance to remain diverse communities but are showing signs of replicating the segregation patterns of the cities themselves.

"It's getting to the point of almost absolute segregation in the worst of the segregated cities – within one or two percentage points of what the Old South used to be like," says Gary Orfield, codirector of the Civil Rights Project and one of the study's authors. "The biggest metro areas are the epicenters of segregation. It's getting worse for both blacks and Latinos, and nothing is being done about it."

About one-sixth of black students and one-ninth of Latino students attend what Mr. Orfield calls "apartheid schools," at least 99 percent minority. In big cities, black and Latino students are nearly twice as likely to attend such schools. Some two-thirds of black and Latino students in big cities attend schools with less than 10 percent white students; in rural areas, about one-seventh of black and Latino students do. Although the South was the region that originally integrated the most successfully, it's beginning to resegregate, as in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district.

While resegregation has been taking place for some time, Orfield says the latest numbers are worrisome both for the degree to which they show the trend is occurring and in light of the US Supreme Court's most recent decision on the issue last June, which struck down several voluntary integration programs and made it more difficult for districts that want to work at desegregating schools to do so.

"If you [as a district] are going to ask your lawyer what's the easiest thing to do, it's to just stop trying to do anything," Orfield explains. "That's a recipe for real segregation."

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