An Integration Plan Leads a Student to a New School: ‘His Whole Life Changed’

About a third of public school students in Minneapolis were assigned to new schools this year. Here is the story of one family.,

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This is the Education Briefing, a weekly update on the most important news in U.S. education. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

Today, we’re talking with a white parent about his decision to enroll his child in a predominantly Black high school. “It’s a whole different human being coming through the door after school every day,” he said.

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Police officers blocked access to roads near the high school.Credit…Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images

A school shooting in Michigan

A 15-year-old high school sophomore at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit, shot and killed four students and injured seven other people — the deadliest school shooting so far this year, according to Education Week.

The suspect, who is uninjured and in police custody, opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun inside the school, according to law enforcement officials, who said that his father had purchased the gun just four days earlier.

The victims were Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17. Students said the school’s frequent active-shooter drills had helped.

“The school made sure that we knew where to go, who to call and how to act,” said Eva Grondin, a 15-year-old sophomore at Oxford, who attended active-shooter training several weeks ago. “If we didn’t have this training I don’t know what would have happened.”

School shootings are becoming more frequent, after a pandemic lull. There have been 28 this year, according to Education Week, which tracks such shootings.

“You never think it’s going to happen to you,” said Aiden Page, a senior. “And then it does. It’s just insane.” Follow along with our live updates here.

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The student population at North High has traditionally been about 90 percent Black. Credit…Andrea Ellen Reed for The New York Times

Minneapolis’s integration plan

Minneapolis has one of the most segregated school districts in the country, with one of the widest racial academic gaps. Now, officials have embarked on an unusual integration plan: asking some white families to help do the integrating by sending their children to schools that have been mostly attended by Black students. About a third of the city’s public school students were assigned to new schools this year.

My colleague Sarah Mervosh took an in-depth look at North High, a beloved, predominantly Black high school that was rezoned to include students from richer, whiter areas to the south. Her article details how hard the rezoning has been on just about everyone.

As a follow-up to Sarah’s reporting, I talked with Ian Good, whose son, Charles, is one of 13 white freshmen at North High. Ian, a tech manager in south Minneapolis, shares custody of his two kids with his former wife. Our conversation has been lightly edited.

What were you thinking about when you were making the decision?

You say the word “decision,” as if we had a decision to make. The decision, if there is a decision, is to try to go around what the schools are trying to do by enrolling your kids somewhere else, or accepting it.

If you’re wealthy, you can drive them to school half an hour away and pick them up every day, and you’re afraid of the unknown. I’m less afraid of the unknown and less capable of driving my kids half an hour each way.

One thing I was struck by in Sarah’s article is that a lot of parents opted out and chose to drive their kids to the suburban schools, which is allowed under state rules. Why did you not go that route?

My kids’ mom approached me in the middle of the summer and said, “I’d like to enroll Charles in some suburban high school so that he can get the best education.” I talked him about it and he said, sort of, “I don’t care where I go.”

So I thought, “Well, what’s going to happen? The school has a history of poor performance according to certain standards of academic testing. But that history is no longer relevant, because, now, it’s an entirely different school body that’s coming into the program.”

But in fact, the whole of south Minneapolis took their kids and put them somewhere else instead.

So the student body itself didn’t change, which I found out the first week in. I picked him up from school for the first time and I see all these kids coming out, and finally he comes out, and I say, “Hey, are there any other white kids in your school?”

He says, “I’m the only white kid in a couple of my classes.” And I said, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And then when I read the Times article, I found out there are only 13 white freshmen.

What was attractive to you about North High? Or, I guess on the flip side, were you nervous?

I was in the summer, but now, I’m very enthusiastic. His whole life changed. He comes home every day and he’s happy and he’s engaging and he tells me all about all of the things that are going on. He loves every single one of his teachers. He’s excelling. It’s a whole different human being coming through the door after school every day.

I was terrified that it was just going to be another miserable year. And academics is just one component. The social and emotional learning component is just as important — or more important — than academics. I feel like you get a lot more of that when there are different people around you, who can teach you about different ways and thoughts.

Why is it so transformative?

I think people are the difference. It’s the staff.

The family dinner is a thing that we do, and that’s when we catch up on the day. In years prior: “How was your day?”

“It was fine.”

Now, both of my kids are competing for time to talk and tell me more about what’s going on. I’m just so happy with that.

How are you talking about race?

We don’t. It’s not something that we go out of our way to talk about. The only anecdote that I have is, just the other day, we were in a suburb, at a grocery store. We had gotten our Christmas tree, and my son said, “Please don’t ever move here.”

And I said, “Why?” And he said, “How many people of color did you see in that grocery store?” I said, “I don’t know, I wasn’t counting.”

He said, “Well, how many white people did you see?”

And I said, “I don’t know, I wasn’t counting.”

And he said, “I’d rather live someplace with more diversity.”

I think the dichotomy between his school, and where we live, in the city, and then going out to the suburbs was apparent to him.

Some of the parents in the story were talking about safety concerns. How are you thinking about that?

I got an automated alert from the school early in the school year that said: “We’re closing the doors due to unsafety in the neighborhood.” That was a powerful voice mail to get. But my perspective is: You control the things you can control, and actual risk is lower than perceived risk. There isn’t any reason for me to believe my son is in danger.

I don’t feel like he’s unsafe. Otherwise, obviously, I would do something about it. If, today, he was miserable in school and he was failing out and he wasn’t learning anything and he was in danger, I would be moving his school. But none of those things are true.

Virus news

Pfizer plans to apply for regulatory approval for booster shots for 16- and 17-year-olds.

A federal appeals court temporarily blocked San Diego’s school district from enforcing its vaccine requirement for students.

Less than 10 percent of students have signed up for coronavirus testing at a majority of Chicago’s schools.

What else we’re reading

Race and identity

Massachusetts may soon require middle school and high school students to learn about genocide and the Holocaust.

A disturbing video of a white student threatening to kill Black people has shocked Pittsfiord, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester.

Opinion: In an illustrated essay for The Los Angeles Times, Malaka Gharib, who graduated from high school in 2004, wonders why she never talked about race in school. “Even though we didn’t talk about racial issues, they were all around us,” she writes.

College

Women’s colleges are changing their admissions policies to welcome nonbinary and transgender people.

A good read from Inside Higher Ed: Lottery-funded college scholarships may disproportionately harm the people they’re intended to help.

A good read from The Times: As the U.S. searches for Chinese spies, university scientists are being targeted. Now, some of them are leaving the country, contributing to an outflow of top academic talent that may hurt the United States while benefiting Beijing.

And the rest …

There is a striking disconnect between the partisan fights that dominate school board meetings and the funding problems, staffing shortages and pandemic recovery efforts that worry educators each day.

A good read from The Washington Post: Republican resistance to President Biden’s plan for universal preschool could imperil key parts of his agenda.

Tip: Daily parenting after loss

Sometimes, Danna Lorch’s son wakes her up in the wee hours, “bellowing for potato chips and cartoons.” As it can be for so many people, Danna writes, the daily grind of parenting “can feel tedious, lonely and exhausting.”

But Danna, like so many parents, struggled to have a child.

She had several miscarriages before her son was born, and often finds herself asking: “How can parents like me, who have struggled with infertility or pregnancy loss, reconcile gratitude for having a child at all with the everyday frustrations of parenthood?”

I learned a lot from her essay, which you can read here. For Danna, it seems that grief and joy have come to coexist, wrapped together in her relationship to parenting.

“It is 100 percent normal to feel conflicted about parenthood even if you went through hell to become a parent,” one psychiatrist told her.

That’s it for this week’s briefing. See you next week!

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