Desegregation

Former board member: Racial isolation persists in Denver schools

In 1995, Laura Lefkowits, then a Denver Public School board member, was in the district’s office when a staff attorney came with some news: The district was no longer bound by a 22-year-old federal court order to desegregate its schools.

“It’s over,” Lefkowits remembers the attorney saying.

In a lecture at the History Colorado museum in Downtown Denver Tuesday, Lefkowits begged to differ.

“It’s not over,” she told a crowd.

Lefkowits, who has been studying desegregation efforts in the city for two years, traced the evolution of the district and city’s approach and attitude toward desegregation over time in an hourlong talk called “Segregation in Denver Public Schools: The 1960s and Today.”

Keyes v. School District no. 1, a lawsuit aimed at forcing the district to integrate its schools, led to the first federal desegregation order outside the southern states. From 1973 until 1996, Denver students were bused across the city in an effort to create racial balance of black, Latino, and white students in the schools. (A consent decree that stemmed from this case still governs how Denver works with its English language learners.)

Its impact was profound. More than 30,000 students left the district in the wake of busing, and though enrollment in DPS has been surging in recent years, it has still not returned to its 1969 level. The district’s demographics have also almost flipped: While white students were a majority in the late 1960s, Hispanic students make up more than half of the student population now.

Lekowits said the decision to remove the order in 1995 was emblematic of cultural attitudes toward integration at the time.

But almost 20 years after that court order was lifted, Lefkowits said, many Denver students attend schools with  high levels of racial isolation, and schools that have high concentrations of students of color and low-income students are more likely to be lower-performing — the very issue the initial cases aimed to address.

At one point, DPS was required ensure that each school’s racial mix was within 15 percent of the district’s overall demographic profile. Lefkowits found that in 2014-15, just 15 percent of the district’s 186 schools meet that goal for Hispanic students, while 20 percent of the district’s schools are more than 90 percent Hispanic.

Most schools that earn low ratings by the district have higher concentrations of students of color and students who live in poverty.

Lefkowits praised the current board for specifically including improving the academic performance of students of color and closing the “opportunity gap” between white students and their peers” in the most recent version of the Denver Plan, the district’s strategic roadmap.

Lefkowits’s talk covered much more of the political and cultural context surrounding the issue, including changing public attitudes toward integration efforts, the advent of school choice systems (which, she said, had been dismissed by a federal judge as a way to ensure integration in schools), and funding issues.

At the end of the event, a History Colorado researcher took an informal poll of the audience to determine how many had been directly affected by busing, either as parents, decisionmakers, or children. Close to a third of the mostly elderly crowd raised their hands.

Lefkowits told Chalkbeat last year that she believed the attendance zones created during her tenure on the district’s board concentrated low-income students in Manual High School, leading to a series of challenges for the school.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.