When Anne Dasovic chose to send her 7-year-old son to Edison Elementary Regional Gifted Center, integration was on her mind.
“One of the reasons I picked that school was because it’s a diverse school,” Dasovic says of the racial makeup of the pupils there. “I think it’s important that kids are in schools that are representative of the city and not in a segregated environment.”
But Dasovic is now worried that the diversity she values at Edison may end. An upcoming judicial hearing will decide the fate of Chicago’s public schools desegregation efforts and may end the decree that makes them mandatory.
“I’m really concerned that if the consent decree is lifted, CPS will make no attempt to try to have a diverse student body,” Dasovic says.
Dasovic and other parents expressed their concerns Tuesday evening at a forum held at Casa Central, 1335 N. California Ave., in Humboldt Park. The event focused on a hearing called by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Kocoras to decide whether CPS should be allowed to end its court-ordered efforts to desegregate.
CPS entered into a consent decree in 1980 after the U.S. Department of Justice threatened to sue the system for failing to desegregate. The decree required CPS to take steps to solve the problem, including ending student assignments by race, providing equal access to transportation, extra-curricular activities and facilities.
The decree also required the school district to form racially balanced staffs and provide more resources to non-English speaking children in the schools.
The upcoming hearing will determine whether the city’s schools can now be declared a unitary system – one that is no longer segregated by race. If that happens, the city wouldn’t have to continue any measures to desegregate schools.
But Valerie Johnson, a professor of political science at DePaul University who spoke at the forum, says CPS is not even close to being desegregated. Ending integration efforts would make the situation worse, she says.
“I do not believe there will be a commitment to racial equality in Chicago Public Schools without this consent decree,” Johnson says. “Particularly considering the fact that this commitment has been a half hearted effort.”
On Tuesday, she quoted a 2001 study that said 70 percent of African American students in the United States attend predominately minority schools. A third of those students attend schools where minority enrollment is 90 to 100 percent, according to the study.
Ricardo Meza, the regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, also spoke at Tuesday's event. He says English language learners are not currently getting the resources they need, and getting rid of the consent decree would make matters worse.
If the system was declared unified, Meza says that parents and community members wouldn’t have any legal way to challenge segregation or discriminatory practices in the city’s schools, he says.
“Once the decision is made, that will be it,” Meza says.
The event was organized by Drummond Families Together, an organization of parents from Drummond Montessori Magnet School in Wicker Park.
Because only 8 percent of CPS students are white, magnet schools have been a big part of desegregation efforts. Currently, magnet schools try to attain a racial balance of between 15 to 30 percent white and 65 to 85 percent minority students.
If the consent decree is ended, Chicago’s 54 magnet schools could not use numerical goals or quotas for race in their admission standards.
Sumi Cho, a Drummond parent and also a professor of law at DePaul University, says the diversity at magnet schools is important.
“It helps people understand who they are and interact with others in the world,” Cho says.
Parents, community members and legal experts will be able to voice their objections to ending the decree at the hearing after filing a written objection with the court.
The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Jan. 20 in the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois, 219 S. Dearborn St. Written objections must be submitted by Dec. 1.
Since 2004, Kocoras has held two hearings to potentially declare unitary status. Enough objections were heard at both meetings to prevent that from happening.
Written objections should be addressed to Clerk of the Court, Attn: United States v. Board of Education.