An Atlanta mom gets people talking about why white parents won't send their kids to black schools

A Huffington Post essay by a mom in a DeKalb community on why other white parents in her neighborhood won't send their kids to the local school has kicked up a viral dust storm.

No hed

Norman writes: (This is only a short excerpt. Please read the full essay.)

They don't know that every Tuesday Juliet comes home with a new Spanish song to sing and bothers me until I look up the colors in Spanish if I can't remember them from high school. Juliet loves her school. Her mother, a teacher at a suburban school, and her father, a PhD candidate at the state university, both find the school completely acceptable, more than acceptable. We love it too.

But my neighbors will not send their kids there and my friends won't even move into the neighborhood. They will whisper about it. They will tell their friends not to go there. They will even tell a stranger that she should move her kids immediately as they both wait for their children to come down the water slide. But they will not give the neighborhood school a chance. They will even go to great lengths to avoid the neighborhood school.

In July, through the neighborhood list serve I got invited to attend the charter school exploration meeting. A group of parents were attempting to start a charter school to center on diversity...Before starting their own charter school, not one person had bothered even contacting the school already in existence. The school that has made huge strides, and could do even better with some parents who had this kind of time and know how. No one was interested in the school of the neighborhood.

It will be interesting to follow Norman's essays over the years to see if she hangs in through middle school.

The scenario Norman describes has played out in other gentrifying areas, especially intown and east Atlanta

Many parents are willing to send their kids to the local elementary school but their resolve weakens in middle and high school. Suddenly, there are concerns about fights in the hallways and disruptive students in class.

But some parents remain steadfast, and that commitment can alter a school's trajectory, as occurred with Mary Lin Elementary 25 years ago, part of the highly regarded Inman Middle and Grady High cluster.

Norman's piece drew more than a thousand comments, many critical of her position. But one mom wrote:

Oh my gosh, thank you SO much for writing this! Every single solitary place that I have lived has been the same way, and when my neighbors found out my daughter went to the neighborhood public school, they were always horrified and I saw that weird, invisible wall go up between us. I would NEVER send my daughter to a charter or a private school, and today she's an extremely intelligent woman, studying abroad, getting ready to graduate Middlesex in London. I feel sorry for any parent who honestly thinks they doing their kids a favor by limiting their exposure to ALL their neighbors.

However, this was more typical:

It's quite simple. What is more important - the idea of cultural diversity or ensuring that your child gets the best education? For nearly all people your own children come before ideology. Before puberty - pretty much all children are great. Come talk to us about how great the school is post puberty.- Someone who worked IT for the mostly segregated schools in the south.

I had a conversation this summer on these exact themes with a parent long committed to sending his child to Maynard Jackson High School , an APS high school with a powerhouse principal working hard to improve the school and entice more families to attend.

The dad told me he loves the dynamic principal and the dedicated teachers, but says too many Jackson students don't care about academics and get in the way of his son learning.

When my oldest child attended City Schools of Decatur, there was still an exodus of kids at middle school. I asked a neighbor in the know why parents snubbed the middle school.

While kids fared well in the accelerated track, the neighbor said diligent students assigned to general classes complained of too many unruly classmates. Parents who feared their kids would be sidetracked opted for private schools.

A friend who made that decision, enrolling her daughter in a local parochial school, explained that while she believed in neighborhood schools, "I am not going to sacrifice my child for them."

Schools that have attracted and kept middle-class families have persuaded parents it's not a sacrifice but a boon to send their kids there.

Read Norman's column and scan the comments and let's discuss.

About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.