The education system in America says all children matter, which should mean black, brown and poor children as well. But when parents and students of color and low income speak out for their education and start to ask questions about their educational rights, school district policy, accountability regarding finances and personnel and safety, then all of a sudden all children do not matter.
Suddenly the rights of the adults in the school district becomes what matter the most in education.
I am empowered and liberated black parent. When I see other engaged parents taking the necessary risks to ensure all children are safe and have a high-quality education, or when I see youth power in action like the nine California public school students who had the courage to file a historic lawsuit, Vergara v. California, I know what is behind it. These courageous students claim, in their lawsuit, that every child, regardless of race or zip-code should have the fundamental, Constitutional right to learn from effective teachers in every classroom.
Yet the sad and harsh reality is parents and students that stand up for equity in education are seen and treated as “problems” or anti-teacher unions. In fact, the struggle is so real, that sometimes parents are arrested and jailed…even when a law hasn’t been broken.
Such is the case of a Latina woman in Connecticut who, in March of this year was convicted and sentenced to ten years for “stealing a public education” for a high school student who she cared for. What makes this case interesting is a law was enacted in 2013 that prohibits the arrest of parents who enroll children in schools outside of their zoned area in Connecticut. The Connecticut Parents Union led the fight to decriminalize zip-code violations and ensure due process and administrative remedies are in place to protect the educational rights of children, so if there’s no law that says it’s illegal regarding school residency issues, why was she arrested?
What’s more important to ask is why did she feel the critical need to go outside of her school district and enroll the student in a school that was going to serve him or her better? Why is school residency issues considered a crime anywhere ? If any public school model is not serving children in a way that prepares them for lifelong success, shouldn’t you try to find an alternative solution? We have best practices across the country to learn from like Arizona’s expanded school choice options. In Florida, starting with the 2017-18 academic year, public school students will be able to attend any school in the state with available space. The HB Bill 7029: Education was signed into law by Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott last week.
I remember hearing Dr. Howard Fuller, remind us of a time when people were trying to keep Blacks out of school buildings – remember Alabama Governor George Wallace, best remembered for his 1960s segregationist politics? Now they are trying their hardest to keep us trapped in schools…failing and unsafe schools included. Why is this happening? And why are we continuing to let it happen?
Many of you may remember in 2011, Akron Ohio, black single mom, Kelley Williams-Bolar, was convicted on felony counts of stealing a public education and served nine days in jail. Ms. Williams -Bolar living in a housing project, wanted a safe quality school for her two daughters. As a result, Williams-Bolar registered her daughters in the Copley-Fairlawn schools, the address the girls were registered under belonged to Williams-Bolar’s father, whom she gave power of attorney and he was a home-owner in the school district. Ms. Williams-Bolar father lived just down the road and within the borders of Copley Township.
What exactly is going on here? Why are parents being arrested for being engaged caretakers who want the best for their children? Why are California students having their educational right to have great teachers in every classroom being overturned in a court of law? Here’s the deal…while
I understand that compulsory education laws mandate that parents send their children to school because we all know a quality education is the key to economic freedom, but is it also mandated that we put our children in unsafe and low-performing schools? We know that our children are dying slow deaths every day they are not taught in a trauma free high-quality classroom by a highly-effective teacher. Black children are dropping out of school at alarming rates. Where is the outrage? Where are the sit-ins and boycotts? When are we going to demand better options for our children? When will our black children matter too?
It feels like education justice is only for teacher unions. They can strike and shut down school districts for raises, and increased pensions, regardless of their performance and they don’t face arrest. But parents and students who are seeking a safe and better education for all children are silenced and punished. Why is there a double standard?
It’s time for collective action among parents and students because where there is unity, there is strength. It’s time to stop asking for permission to advocate for equitable access to educational opportunities. The time is now to stand up for all of our children and fight on their behalf. If not now, then when?