Equity & Diversity

S.F. Schools Becoming More Segregated

By Robert C. Johnston — September 06, 2000 2 min read

Racial segregation is returning to the San Francisco school system, following a 1999 court order that forced the district to stop using race and ethnicity in assigning children to schools, a recent report concludes.

In addition, African-American and Latino students are attending school at disturbingly lower rates than their Asian-American and white peers, according to the report, which was issued this summer by the state-appointed monitor who oversees the district’s 17-year-old desegregation consent decree.

In the second school year since the race-based assignments ended, the incoming classes in 20 of the district’s 116 schools have become “severely segregated,” the report found. The designation means that more than 60 percent of the students in those classes are now of one race or ethnic group.

“We told the court it was going to happen,” said Jill Wynns, a member of the San Francisco school board. “We are not happy about it, but it’s not all that surprising.”

Following the 1983 consent decree, San Francisco used race-based assignments to cap the enrollment of any one racial or ethnic group in a school at 45 percent. The district also ensured that at least four of nine identified groups were represented in each school’s enrollment.

While the policy helped maintain racial balance in the diverse, 64,000-student system, Chinese-American families sued in 1994, saying that the caps had kept their children out of the city’s top public schools. The district lost the suit and was forced to draft a new assignment policy that dropped race as a factor.

Attendance Gaps

Today, according to the report’s projections for the 2000-01 school year, 16 elementary schools, three middle schools, and one high school have severely segregated incoming classes. In some grades, up to 80 percent of students will be of one race or ethnicity.

The report found that the rosters of several low-performing resegregated schools were disproportionately made up of Latino or African-American students. Chinese-American students, meanwhile, make up a majority of students in the three high-performing resegregated schools.

The district’s new superintendent, Arlene Ackerman, has said that she hopes to submit an attendance plan to the school board this fall that considers students’ economic background as a way to ensure a more diverse mix. The current policy does not take family income into account.

Ms. Ackerman, who came to the San Francisco district after heading the District of Columbia schools, has organized a team to address the issues identified in the report.

One of the group’s biggest challenges will be the stark attendance gaps highlighted by the report. During the spring of this year, 94 percent of Chinese-American middle school students attended between 91 percent and 100 percent of their classes, compared with 61 percent for white students, 55 percent for Latinos, and 43 percent for blacks.

The attendance numbers drop dramatically for the high schools, where the report suggests that truancy is a major problem.

Districtwide, 42 percent of white students, 38 percent of Filipinos, 24 percent of Latinos, and 19 percent of blacks attended between 91 percent and 100 percent of their high school classes. The rates were 62 percent for Japanese-American students and 68 percent for Chinese-Americans.

In one high school cited by the report, a mere 13.5 percent of Latino students and 9 percent of black students attend between 91 percent and 100 percent of their classes.

“The information is as revealing as it is disappointing,” the report says.


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