Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bigotry in the DISD

In case you're not from around these parts, and haven't heard about the Preston Hollow case, here's a short summary:

To appease wealthy white parents who live near the school, [Principal] Parker regularly grouped their children together in adjoining classrooms. In another part of the school, Hispanic and black children were put together.

This class-based – and to a large extent, race-based –assignment scheme was designed to make white parents feel better about sending their children to a DISD school that is 66 percent Hispanic, 18 percent white, 14 percent black and 2 percent Asian.

...she took Hispanic and black kids with no problem speaking English and assigned them to classes in English as a second language, designed for students with limited English-speaking ability.

Adding insult to injury was the fact that teachers in the ESL classes went through the curriculum more slowly than teachers in the predominantly white "neighborhood classes."

For their efforts, Parker and DISD were found liable for intentional discrimination at Preston Hollow:
Last November, a federal judge both listened and acted, issuing a bluntly worded ruling that stigmatized Preston Hollow as a corrosive school that is purposefully and systematically segregated at all grade levels. U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay ruled that Parker was personally liable and ordered her to pay $20,000 to one of the two mothers who sued the school. His 106-page opinion, recounting volumes of classroom data and testimony from teachers, illustrated how the school marginalized dozens of Hispanic and black children, placing them in ESL classes for no sound academic reason. Instead, Lindsay opined, the principal isolated too many minority children in ESL classes so that the white children from the surrounding neighborhood could stay together, even if this created a school polarized along racial and ethnic lines. The judge has given Dallas Independent School District until mid-January to assign students into more racially mixed classes.
Neither DISD nor Ms. Parker nor the affluent white parents of students at Preston Hollow acquitted themselves particularly well at trial. Incredibly, DISD argued not only that such discrimination was not taking place, but that even if it was, it hardly mattered as students isolated to the ESL classes were receiving essentially the same education. Does that argument sound familiar? It did to Judge Lindsay, who issued the ruling in the case (LexisNexis):
The court is baffled that in this day and age, Defendants are relying on what is, essentially, a "separate but equal" argument. The court cannot help but be reminded of the Supreme Court's decision over one hundred and ten years ago in Plessy v. Ferguson...The Supreme Court rejected the argument that the "enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority" and held that "separate but equal" accommodations do not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court thought this issue had been buried when the Supreme Court declared "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

Apparently not to the officials at DISD who, unbelievably, actually paid an attorney to draft a petition that included a "separate but equal" argument. And of course as was the case with separated schools in the heydays of segregation, the education was not in fact "equal."

If you're thinking the parents of white students at Preston Hollow who were the impetus for this discrimination learned much of anything from the ruling, you would be wrong (from the above-mentioned Observer column):

In fact, the [Dallas] News missed the finer point of the judge's ruling, which found the school to have purposefully placed white neighborhood children in the same mixed classes—keeping the white kids together even if it meant unfairly placing minorities in ESL classes. But there were no all-white classes at Preston Hollow. It was never that egregious.

Still, the daily's mistake only galvanized the Anglo parents who felt like everyone from the media to their own school district was against them. In the judge's opinion, they came off as stodgy and domineering, so much so that they chose to showcase Anglo kids in a brochure for the school at the expense of the other children. Despite drawing the ire of the court and even after taking a battering in the press, the parents defend their efforts to market the school to their neighbors.
"We're the minority in this school," says Joe Bittner, whose wife, Meg, is the president of the Preston Hollow PTA.

"We're trying to attract more minorities. Why is it OK for UT to want more black students, but it's not OK for us to want more white students?"

Well, it's actually okay (if somewhat unsavory) to want more white students in your school. It's not okay to arrange your classes so that you stick hispanic kids in ESL classes where they are taught at a slower pace and at a lower level than the white children, so white parents can feel comfortable in the knowledge that their kids are receiving minimial exposure to anyone who doesn't look like them while at the same time getting the best use of the facilities and teachers available at the school.

I post this mostly to point out, on this day after the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and legacy, that bigotry still resides comfortably in the hearts of many Americans (of all races and backgrounds) and the fight for inclusiveness, tolerance and harmony continues. It would behoove the parents of Preston Hollow to recall the battles fought in decades past to avoid just such the type of discrimination and segregation that they seemed all too willing to impose upon themselves and others.


Anonymous said...

You need to check your facts. DISD and Principal Parker were found NOT guilty in their OFFICIAL Capacity. Principal Parker was found guilty Individually. As far as the "whites" and PTA controlling the placement of children in the school, this did not happen. Judge Lindsay made numerous errors in his interputation of the Findings of Facts presented by both the Plaintiffs and Defendants. Now the fight is over who pays the attorney fees. The Plaintiffs pro-bono legal team (MALDEF)are set up to eat their fees because Lindsay split the decision. Could not happen to a better group (MALDEF). No tears here in North Dallas.

Xanthippas said...

And I believe you need to read more carefully. Nowhere did I or the original Dallas Observer article state or imply that DISD, or Superintendent Hinajosa or Principal Parker were "officially" liable for anything they did. They were not because it is not DISD policy or custom to segregate classrooms; that's why DISD got off the hook so easily. Hinajosa wasn't found liable because the court did not find that he was "consciously indifferent" to the problem at Preston Hollow. However, the judge did seem to think that Hinajosa was somewhat negligent in following up on the situation, given the complaints he was receiving from teachers at the school. As for Parker...yes, she was found personally liable because she did not act in her official capacity and because she did not qualify for immunity, which is all I or the article say. However, the quotes the Observer prints from neighborhood parents speak for themselves, as do the somewhat damaging admissions made by the PTA President Bittner at trial regarding deliberate efforts to minimize the hispanic "presence" and deliberately attract more white children. As for the findings of fact, you provide no examples of errors the judge made, and many of his findings are based on admissions or evidence of statements made by the defendants and their witnesses, where they state quite openly with each other what they are up to. Perhaps you can provide an examples of how that was misunderstood or mischaracterized by Judge Lindsay.

And as your comments against MALDEF indicate, you are apparently against lawyers being compensated for work that combats segregation and discrimination, which says more than anything else your comment does.

Nat-Wu said...

I think it's more like he's against Mexicans.