Ever since the beginning of school desegregation with the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, there has been a constant struggle to ensure that black children (and non-white children in general) get the same educational opportunities as white children.
This goes far beyond the idea of including both white and black children in the same schools and classrooms. It includes hiring more non-white faculty and staff to balance the disproportionate number of black students in remedial and non-advanced classes, improving graduation rates among students of color, and dealing with the harsher discipline that black students are often dealt over their white peers.
In 1964, Charles Rutledge and five other African-American parents filed a federal lawsuit against the Pinellas School Board in what became known as Leon W. Bradley, Jr., et al. v. Board of Public Instruction of Pinellas County. It was this court case that led to the desegregation of schools in Pinellas County, and it is this case that still seeks equal rights and opportunity today.
The issue presented in the Pinellas County desegregation case originally focused on whether or not the public school system was unitary. In 1969, the court found that, yes, the school system had successfully converted to a unitary system. However, the plaintiffs appealed and the case has continued on ever since.
The issues presented during the case deal with six different aspects of education: faculty, , staff, facilities, extracurricular activities, and student body composition. It was the goal of the plaintiffs to ensure that the school board was taking measures to ensure that all these areas were being addressed in light of desegregation and equal opportunity. The court ended up finding that the system was not unitary and ordered the Board to find ways to make it so.
As the case has gone on over the past 50 years, more issues have been presented as they have arisen.
Pinellas County has introduced multiple strategies to comply with the court's order, but Rutledge continued to push for improvements in the education of black until his death in 2014. Activists Enrique Escarraz and Roger Plata, supported by the NAACP, continue his work today.
Recently, the court decided that the 50-year-old case should in an attempt to resolve the remaining issues quickly. This decision was reached after negotiations about the plaintiffs' demand for the district to provide a more detailed plan to improve education black students went nowhere. This would be the third time in the last 17 years that mediation was attempted in this case.
This time, things may be different. Another lawyer has suggested that the mediation for Bradley v. Board of Public Instruction of Pinellas County be combined with another case from 2000 that alleges black students have been unfairly treated by the school district. This would be good news not only for the courts but also for equality within the school system.
As it stands, the main plan that has been introduced to satisfy the plaintiffs' concerns is the "Bridging the Gap" plan. This proposal by the superintendent covers six areas that would be focused on for improvement. Those are closing the gaps between white and black children in the areas of graduation rates, proficiency on state exams, participation and performance in accelerated classes (such as AP or IB), discipline, the number of students recommended for special education classes and the hiring of non-white staff.
The plan has grown from its original five pages to more than 30 as the case has moved forward.
Although the plan has changed and grown to more thoroughly satisfy the requirements, the plaintiffs are still not satisfied by it. They consider the plan good on paper, but would rather see something drafted that could be presented in a U.S. District Court.
The school district says that the plan accommodates both long- and short-term goals and seeks to exceed measures being taken in other school districts.
In an attempt to meet the demands of the case, suggestions were gathered from the public during five open forums. The goal was to incorporate the needs and wants of the community into the plan, making it more comprehensive and more likely to satisfy the plaintiffs. Over 1,000 suggestions and comments were collected from teachers, administrators, parents, and other members of the community.
It is not common for a case to drag on for so long. Perhaps it's a sign of the community, state of racial affairs, or it's just a complicated matter that has no easy answer. Either way, it isn't necessarily futile that so many steps have been taken to meet the needs of the plaintiffs—and, overall, the needs of Black and Latino students. Through persistence and an unwavering need to see the system treat non-white students more fairly, the plaintiffs have perhaps done something great for this school district, state, and nation. If a plan can be worked out that comes close to fixing the six issues presented, we will have made great strides toward a society built on the principles of liberty, equality, and justice for all.
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