Thursday, May 21, 2009

What is wrong with this picture?

In the bad old days, some Southern public schools got closed down because staying open would mean being integrated.

And "separate but equal" held a lot more sway over Rebel hearts and minds than educating all God's children. Especially if God's children were black. In Prince Edward County, Va., the public schools stayed closed from 1959 to 1964.

THANKFULLY, those days have faded into history. Unless you count many cities' mostly-white private schools counterpoised with failing, dilapidated mostly-black public schools.

There are other modern reminders of "the bad ol' days," as well. Some more fraught with irony than others.

For example, in my hometown, there's the sad case of Robert E. Lee High School. It used to be the home of the Rebels. Now, with a majority-minority student body, it's the home of the Patriots.

And this band of Patriots has no George Washington to shepherd it out of harm's way so it might fight another day.

FOR THAT MATTER, they'd just as well go back to being the Rebels, because Lee High has met its Appomattox.

In this day and age of crumbling urban schools -- particularly in places, like Baton Rouge, with little history of supporting quality education for all -- you could find a hundred legitimate reasons for pulling the plug on a school like Lee High. You have your plummeting enrollment. And crumbling facilities. And too many high schools in town for too few remaining students.

I imagine all of these are factors in Lee High's pending demise, expected to be formalized tonight by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. But not the main one, says The Advocate:

Supporters of the high school, located at 1105 Lee Drive, successfully fought to keep it open in spring 2008 — and to have it rebuilt in the future on the same location for $63 million — but the school’s continued inability to meet state minimum academic standards may have sealed its fate.


[Schools Superintendent Charlotte]
Placide visited Lee High’s faculty and staff Wednesday afternoon to let them know of her decision, made Tuesday after discussing it with her education leadership team.

“The staff was very somber,” she said. “Nobody wants it to happen.”

Placide first proposed closing Lee High at a May 4 special board meeting. The two options were to close the school right away or to close it over the course of the next year, so the class of 2010 could graduate at the school.

Lee High is potentially up for state takeover as early as August, and board members worried that if the school were still operating in any form, the state would move to take it over.

Closing the school immediately could mean that today — also the last day of the 2008-09 school year — is the school’s last day in operation.

AND THAT'S the way it is, May 21, 2009. An African-American school superintendent, along with an integrated school board, seeks to shutter a failing school rather than let the state take control of it.

Stupidity always has been an equal-opportunity enterprise. Irony, too.

UPDATE: They did it. Here's some of WAFB television's story:

They fought about it all night, in fact students, parents and school board members have been at odds over the future of Lee High for more than a year now. But Thursday night was decision time. Robert E. Lee High has officially been closed.

"It is a tremendously tough thing to do. But it is the right thing to do," said East Baton Rouge School Board member Noel Hammitt.

He called the decision to close Robert E. Lee High painful. An alumnus himself, Hammitt made it clear that Lee High's closure does not mean the school has failed. He says the move to close these doors would prevent yet another take over.

"To keep the school open would mean that the state of Louisiana could take over another school," said Hammitt.
THE MIND BOGGLES. The board shuttered a school -- expressly shuttered a school -- so the state couldn't get a shot at straightening out what the local yahoos screwed up.

Something is seriously, seriously wrong in a place where such things happen. But in my hometown, it's not exactly without precedent. Thursday's s*** fit is just another twist on the old Louisiana game of cutting off one's own nose to spite somebody else's face, and it's been going on within public education ever since Brown v. Board of Education.

Would that this new version of a venerable -- and insane -- phenomenon could be pinned on something as easily confronted as "segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever."

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