On Brown v Board of Education Anniversary, School Segregation, Gerrymandering Persist
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On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court announced the unanimous decision for the Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS, case: that school segregation violated the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Because the Supreme Court did not specifically order how to desegregate the schools, in 1955, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that schools desegregate “with all deliberate speed.” On this 69th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, gerrymandering is contributing to the rise of segregation in U.S. schools.
How does gerrymandering contribute to school segregation?
Gerrymandering results in school segregation because school attendance zone maps end up dividing students based on race and socioeconomic statuses. School district administrators create these attendance zone maps in order to help organize and plan district-wide services. When these maps are created by administrators, they often reinforce socioeconomic segregation and racial segregation, especially between White and non-White students. Redlining practices from 1931 still impact segregation to this day, such that the presence of low-income housing closely associates with non-White school attendance zones, while the absence of low-income housing closely associates with White school attendance zones. Unfortunately, segregation of schools today is at the same level as it was when the Brown v Board of Education decision was made. A lot of the policies that were implemented after Brown v. Board of Education are no longer enforced since the 1991 Board of Education of Oklahoma City Public Schools v. Dowell U.S. Supreme Court case, which allowed the end of federal desegregation orders. Gerrymandering that worsens school segregation has increased since 1991. This has led legislators to introduce the Strength in Diversity Act to improve racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools.
School attendance zones are slightly less gerrymandered than legislative districts. Gerrymandering boundaries can be drawn to “pack” people into segregated districts or to “crack” a community into several districts so that they are minority within the district. While presence of low-income housing is closely associated with non-White school attendance zones where non-White children in grades K-12 are packed, college campuses can often be cracked, especially institutions serving historically resilient people. One of the most egregious cases is at the cracking of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University into two districts.
Making voting more difficult for college students is a top priority of Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election and who runs the Conservative Partnership Institute’s “Election Integrity Network.” The Conservative Partnership Institute is a coalition of conservative leaders, organizations, public officials, and volunteers who intend to gain control of election administrations in battleground states. With the recent gerrymandering of HBCUs and the Moore v Harper case in the U.S. Supreme Court, by July 2023, it is possible that gerrymandering could be made legal, and that only state legislatures will have the power to draw districting maps, with no checks and balances from state or federal courts or gubernatorial veto.
Ethical violations of several U.S. Supreme Court Justices have prompted federal legislative action such as the Judiciary Act of 2023 to expand the U.S. Supreme Court, but questions remain about whether the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in a fair manner regarding the outlawing of gerrymandering. If the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Moore v. Harper results in legalizing gerrymandering, fair representation in elections will become nearly impossible. Federal legislative and executive checks and balances are possible. However, those checks and balances don’t happen without people like you meeting with, calling, or sending letters to your elected representatives to demand the implementation of solutions before the next election.
The Freedom to Vote Act, which is expected to be reintroduced by federal legislators, will outlaw extreme partisan gerrymandering, as well as normalize national standards to protect the right to vote. It will also begin to overhaul corruption in the current campaign finance system and create new protections against the subversion of electoral processes. You deserve a fair chance to vote. And if you’re a scientist, your ability to conduct science without interference from special interests depends upon fair democratic systems and processes. In the current situation, the lack of normalized processes for upholding the integrity for fair representation has already begun to impact whether scholars can teach and/or testify on topics that special interests want limited.
It is a matter of time before Brown v. Board of Education cannot be widely taught in public schools, colleges, and universities unless you get involved in working to improve the democracy that we have. If you want to learn more about how to get involved, please feel free to email me: [email protected]
Dr. Sophia Marjanovic is the Bilingual Senior Organizer at the Center for Science and Democracy of the Union of Concerned Scientists. She received a Ph.D. in immunology and microbiology from the George Washington University in order to work on accountability and healing for her Fort Peck Oceti Sakowin and Assiniboine community, which has suffered from the toxins of oil and natural gas extraction. Dr. Marjanovic, through her father, is also of the Iipay tribe of the Kumeyaay nation, which is split by the U.S.-Mexican border.
Dr. Marjanovic writes about how communities can get solutions implemented into law to protect and help those who have been most often marginalized into erasure.