Monday Musings: The Ugly Truth about Choosing a School for Your Children

ugly truthThe Ugly Truth

Now that most of my family, friends, and fellow educators know I write for Indy/Ed and The Educator’s Room, people tend to send me articles to either pick my brain about the content or in hopes that I will write my own perspective about the issue covered.  This weekend I was sent the Indianapolis Monthly article “The IPS Magnet School Conundrum” a few times.

I appreciate the honesty and transparency from the article’s author.  The author and his wife wanted their child to attend IPS magnet school CFI 2.  CFI 2 doesn’t offer Pre-K, so they chose CFI 27 instead as their first choice but was offered their second choice George Washington Carver Montessori School 87.  Upon researching the school and learning it was majority minority and majority free and reduced lunch, they had reservations.

Indeed, there are few bigger champions of diversity than white, college-educated city-dwellers.  Except when it comes to schools. In that regard, we’re far more like suburbanites than we’d care to admit…The ugly truth is, even some liberal white parents won’t send their kids to a school that’s “too” brown or black.

The uglier truth is some middle and upper class black and brown parents won’t send their children to a school that is “too” brown or black too.

Our Story

My husband and I have been married for eleven years.  During our first year of marriage, we lived in a little apartment in Wayne Township.  We decided we didn’t want to keep throwing our money away into rent payments, so about five months into our marriage, we started looking for a house.  One of the largest factors when house hunting, if you plan to become parents one day, is the school district and more specifically the schools within that district your children would attend.

Although, I later went on to work in Wayne Township for five years and love that district, we immediately eliminated it from our list because it was too far away from our parents.  My mom and dad and my mother-in-law live on the northeast side of Indianapolis within the boundaries of IPS.  Our parents lived in the part of IPS that was bused out to Lawrence Township because of desegregation busing.  As the author of the Indianapolis Monthly piece pointed out:

The initial response by middle-class whites to government-mandated school desegregation was to get the hell out of the city. “White flight” helped build suburban communities like Fishers, Brownsburg, Carmel, and Zionsville. And it left urban Indianapolis a shell of itself.

After the “white flight,” there was the “minority flight.”  Some black and brown families who could afford to leave moved out of the boundaries of IPS and into the new subdivisions that were being built in the various township districts that were forced to accept students bused from IPS.  My mother-in-law and my parents could have moved but chose to stay.  As my father put it, “I have always lived in IPS and I don’t need to move now. There are good people in our neighborhood.”

Even though my husband and I lived within IPS our whole lives while we attended school, when we were house hunting, IPS was not a choice.  Our top choice was Lawrence Township and tied for second was Pike Township and Washington Township.

Why Not IPS?

We didn’t choose IPS because many of the schools were under-performing and we wanted our children to attend a diverse school with minorities of various backgrounds as well as white students.  We didn’t want to send our sons to an IPS magnet school because they were too white.  My husband and I had already experienced being the only black student or one of a few when we were bused out to Lawrence Township before the demographics changed due to white flight and we didn’t want that for our children.

When your family sends you off to college and you return and don’t want to live in the neighborhood, you face hell from some family members.  We faced hell because as one family member said, “Ya’ll did the unthinkable.” The unthinkable was choosing not to buy the family home.  My grandmother owned a home on Arsenal Ave and then my uncle became the next owner and he wanted to sell the home to us, but because the house was in IPS we said no.  The lecture we received about playing into the hands of people who were gentrifying the city is one that sticks with me to this day.  My family members were right and that’s is exactly what happened.  My uncle sold the home and then it was flipped and resold for almost three times the amount that it was purchased from him.

This is my 12th year as an educator and this school year and the previous two school years I have been employed by IPS…and it isn’t the easiest truth to admit that I work in a district where I wouldn’t buy a house.

Where did we move?

We landed in Washington Township.  Our neighborhood, as well as our twin sons’ elementary school, satisfies the plans my husband and I had for our family.   Across the street lives a black family, our next door neighbors to the east are Iranian and to the west our neighbors are white and behind us lives a Hispanic family.  Throughout our neighborhood, this diversity continues.

We are happy with sending our sons to their boundary school.  The boy two doors down is in class with one of my sons and he is over our house so frequently, he might as well be our third son.  This is what we wanted for our sons. We wanted them to live in a diverse neighborhood and attend school with the children that live next door.

Teachers have the privilege of transferring their children to their school whether they live in the district or not.  What I love about Washington Township is that many teachers who don’t live in the district enroll their children in their school.  I have heard the Superintendent Dr. Nikki Woodson say many times, “I am the proud Superintendent of Washington Township Schools and I am also a proud Washington Township parent.”  That speaks volumes.  This is yet another reason why my husband and I are satisfied with our decision.

Where does this leave our city?

There are multiple layers to where parents decide to send their children for school.  The first important step is for parents, educators, school districts, and lawmakers to engage in transparent conversations about why these choices are made.

Desegregation busing was never going to be a permanent integration solution.  People have to want to live together first and next they are going to have to want their children to attend their neighborhood school with children in their neighborhood.  For my husband and I, it was simple.  Where can we move where we are comfortable sending our children to the neighborhood school?  I hope we can get to a place where any neighborhood can become the place where parents are comfortable sending their children to their neighborhood school.


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