8:54 am

In 1998, I joined a multiethnic activist group called the Community Monitoring Advisory Coalition (CMAC).  The group was led by longtime activists Ron Herndon, Richard Luccetti and Halim Rahsaan.

My first CMAC committee assignment was writing the history of the struggle to improve public education for minority children.  That was quite an assignment for me considering that I come from a poor white background.  I’d rarely left my neighborhood.  Needless to say the paper was a collaborative effort.

I’m in the process of updating the Two Decade Struggle for Public School Children because it is now over a decade behind.

I get pissed when I read through the history now because so much of what was fought for has been lost.  Here’s an excerpt from the paper:

In 1979 the Black United Front began working against a school desegregation plan that was very harmful to Black children and discriminatory in its implementation.  Using a study by the Community Coalition for School Integration, the Front protested the forced busing of Black students from their communities while White students were allowed to attend neighborhood schools.  School district policy prevented Black teachers from teaching at schools in the Black community.

There were no schools serving grades 6-8 in the Albina neighborhood where the majority of Portland’s Black children lived.  All middle school aged children were mandatorily bused into other neighborhoods.  School officials tried to put as few Black children as possible in as many White schools as possible.  In 1977, 44 students from the Eliot neighborhood were bused to 20 different schools.  This abusive practice of busing and scattering Black students occurred at every elementary school in the Black community.

The Front sponsored two successful boycotts of Portland Public Schools in 1980 and 1981 to press demands for a new desegregation plan and a middle school in the Black community.

Tubman Middle School was opened in 1983 but only after the firing of Superintendent Blanchard (BESC is named after him), partially because of his unwillingness to work with Black parents and intervention by a mediator from the US Department of Justice.

Sadly Tubman closed in 2006.  Where is the Albina neighborhood’s middle school now?

One of my favorite poems is a long poem called The Intervals by Stuart MacKinnon.  In it MacKinnon talks about not letting the effort of generations drop.

Portland Public Schools has taken advantage of the fact that some communities have been asleep.  PPS has changed school boundaries and reconfigured, consolidated and closed schools in poor communities with little resistance.

By just about every measure (achievement gap, dropout and discipline rates, under and over representation in TAG and SPED, teacher diversity, and equitable opportunities) Portland has gone backwards.  Hard fought gains have been lost.

PPS is about to change school assignment policy at the high school level, redraw boundaries, and close schools.  They say that they’re making the changes in an effort to create equity.  Nothing in their history makes me believe that.

PPS administrators can’t be trusted to do the right thing for kids unless forced.  Hell, they don’t even know it’s about kids.  They think it’s about them.  Parents and community members need to get involved now.  Before it’s too late.

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Cheating in Class. Used by permission.

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Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.

filed under: Middle Schools, Race, School Closures, Segregation, Transfer Policy

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10 Responses

  1. Comment from John B. Tang:

    The timing for this article is perfect. It is about all communities getting involved. We need to mobilize African American parents, Hispanic parents, Asian parents, Low income parents, Language minority parents, Special Ed parents, etc… to get involved and this time we are together with ONE mission: To ensure a quality education for our students. With the current student population make-up, we are no longer considered minority. We should be able to have a strong say as to what we want for our children. I appreciate the history you outlined in your article. Let’s not lose all the gains we have fought so hard for. This is in honor of Halim Rahsaan who passed away a few years ago
    but his spirit is still very much alive.

  2. Comment from Rita:

    Thanks for writing this, Carrie. This all happened before I (and a lot of other folks) moved here, so I’ve been playing catch up. How soon will the new report be updated? Are you planning to post it? It would be invaluable to inform the current redesign process. If it’s going to be a while, would you be willing to post the earlier report?

  3. Comment from vargasgarcia:

    Thank you. Thank you for this historical perspective. I do not think families have been asleep so much as we are working within our communities to affect what change we can. We can and should do more. This piece is a call to arms especially in light of the very real possibility that students from Boise-Eliot may be bused to Lincoln. Though we’ve asked, though we’ve asked time and again, there has been no such comments made about busing Skyline over to Roosevelt or any of the Westside students over to an Eastside school.

    In PPS’s naive effort to create equity in “numbers” of free and reduced lunch students at all our schools by rearranging boundaries and busing, they are once again messing with those very communities they say they wish to serve. I believe this young design team could learn a history lesson or two from you. Thank you for your post.

  4. Comment from stephanie:

    I was just at an education brainstorming meeting with parents and advocates in special education and the phrase, “We are heading backwards.” kept getting repeated. Over 30 years after students with disabilities were given the basic right to education in public schools alongside their non-disabled peers this district and others are forming more and more “special schools” and calling this the least restrictive environment. Parents like me live in fear the district will force segregation on my child and say it is a “better place to meet their needs” but it will not be a choice and these kids are herded from place to place to make room for those all important transfer slots. Thanks for this post, the history really helps put what is happening now in perspective.

  5. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    John: Halim was a dear friend and I miss him very much. He had plenty of spirit to share huh? We need that today.

    Rita: I stepped aside in 2004 so that I could finish college. I did that but also ended up in the hell they call BESC. I tried to push for change from the inside but that only makes you sick. Now, I’m trying to catch up too.

    I’ll probably post the first report in early February if it looks like I’m not going to be able to update the history soon.

    Vargasgarcia: I certainly don’t want to discount any of the advocacy that’s taken place over the last several years.

    I feel like maybe I was asleep. The only thing that the district does consistently and well is to exhaust parents and community members. People burn out and need time to rejuvenate.

    I haven’t heard about the possibility of busing Boise-Eliot kids to Lincoln. Why would they do that?

    Stephanie: We are going backwards. We had segregation, desegregation and now re-segregation.

    ESL parents are filing the same complaints they’ve filed for the last twenty years. Student discipline rates are as bad or worse than they were 10 years ago. Dropout rates are the highest I’ve ever seen them.

    PPS and ODE have manipulated student achievement data so much that it’s almost impossible to compare progress. That topic alone could have it’s own page.

    The only winners in the system seem to be the district’s contractors and consultants.

  6. Comment from howard:

    “The only winners in the system seem to be the district’s contractors and consultants.”

    I can think of many other “winners” in and around the “system”. Otherwise equity among clusters in all respects would be much closer to reality in PPS.

  7. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Howard, that’s true.

  8. Comment from John B. Tang:

    Carrie, the picture in your article really brings up memories. I used to work with Halim at PCC. He was constantly reminding me of equity issues and he encouraged me to speak up. I won a legal battle in 1997 because of his encouragement. We need to bring back the Education Crisis Team. Many of us are ready. Many communities of color are now united. We just need strong and consistent leadership. Halim died from heart complications. I believe his death had to do with his passion and endless advocacy work in the community.

  9. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    John, That’s the Halim I knew and loved. You’re probably right about his death but he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Please email me through my blog and I’ll contact you.

  10. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    John, my blog is