by Christopher Wilds, Herbert and Nell Singer Social Justice Fellow, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Imagine being a Black student in a school district where, for decades, one school has almost never enrolled Black students and the predominantly Black school suffers from crumbling ceilings, decades old textbooks, bathrooms without stalls, and discriminatory discipline policies. Today, 62 years after the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) litigated and won Brown v. Board of Education – the case that declared the doctrine of “separate, but equal” unconstitutional and heralded the end of legal segregation in this country – LDF remains enmeshed in the struggle to eradicate “apartheid schools” – the racially isolated “black schools” that are inferior to their counterpart “white schools” and undermine educational outcomes for far too many African-American children. While the legal victory in Brown has had a significant historical and societal impact, it did not completely eliminate the pervasive racial discrimination and educational inequalities faced by students of color.
For students in far too many school districts across the nation ‒ including those in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana ‒ racially segregated schools are a fact of life. A report by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA noted that the number of majority-minority schools (those with zero to 10 percent white enrollment) has more than tripled in enrollment in the past 25 years. And a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released yesterday details the harms that flow from such racially and economically isolated schools: Specifically, the report found that schools that are isolated by poverty and race generally had fewer resources, more disciplinary actions, and poorer academic outcomes than other schools.
Despite the pervasiveness of racially isolated schools, desegregation remains a significant challenge ‒ just as it was 62 years ago. The GAO report notes that that the Department of Justice is monitoring and enforcing about 178 open desegregation cases. LDF likewise oversees a docket of about 100 desegregation cases ‒ many of which have been open since the Brown era. LDF’s work in the Thomas v. School Board of St. Martin Parish desegregation case is a powerful example of how and why the contemporary effort to erase the vestiges of segregation in education remains critically important.