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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools fail students with segregation
District is separate and unequal
Published Wednesday, June 17, 2020 10:59 pm
by Cecilia Whalen

Cecilia Whalen of Charlotte is a graduate of East Mecklenburg High School, which like most campuses in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, has been re-segregated by race.

Students at Ardrey Kell High School recently painted their school rock in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Shortly thereafter, the rock was vandalized with red paint which exed out the memorials to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the names of other victims of recent racist violence.

Luckily, a large number of Ardrey Kell students condemned this racist act. They gathered to repaint it and act in solidarity. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools was there to record and quickly posted a video on social media of the re-painting with the following caption:

“Earlier today, the Ardrey Kell family came together to continue their fight against racism. Students, staff, and district leadership helped re-paint the school rock after it was vandalized over the weekend. This is truly an example that we can come together and stand up for what is right. By working together, we will continue to defeat hate and racism.”

I had to read the caption twice because I was confused by the school district’s wording, particularly the word “continue,” in the sentence “continue to defeat hate and racism.” The word “continue” implies that work in “defeating hate and racism” is being done; the word “continue” implies that “defeating hate and racism” is a characteristic of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, as if, when one should be asked “quick, name the top five things that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools does consistently!” one would answer “why, they defeat hate and racism, of course,” as if they had somehow proven that “defeating hate and racism” was their métier.

This is not true. In fact, CMS is the most segregated school system in the state. We have schools that are 99% minority – 83% black – such as West Charlotte High School, and schools that are 70% white – 9% black – such as Providence High School. While the city of Charlotte is about 35% black (45% white, 13% Hispanic, etc.), a CMS school, Providence Spring Elementary, only has a 4% black population. That means that out of a total population of 904 students, there are only 36 black students at Providence Spring. In CMS, however, Providence Spring is not an anomaly.

My alma mater, the IB magnet East Mecklenburg High School, is about 80% minority, 20% white, and, while it certainly has its faults, was and remains, in my unbiased opinion, the greatest high school in Charlotte because of its diversity (they represent over 50 different countries, and 60 different languages). East was my homeschool, but a lot of my friends – most, in fact – went to East on lottery, meaning they had different homeschools. While my friends attended East, most of their siblings attended the home school, usually Garinger High (96% minority) or Cochrane Collegiate Academy (98% minority). Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is so segregated, that when my friends – all of them themselves minorities – decided to go to East, their siblings asked them “why they decided to go to the white school?” East Meck: 20% white. But whiter than any school they had been to before.

I was – and still am – most of my friends’ first and only white friend. At first, several of them later told me, they were suspicious of me (and rightfully so). They thought I would be uptight or snobbish or mean to them. Who could blame them? They hadn't hardly interacted with white people their entire lives: not in their neighborhoods and certainly not in their schools. The white people they had come into contact with or heard of were those arresting people who looked like them, or trying to oust them out of the country, or making fun of them for how they looked or spoke.

There were white teachers – good and bad – but teachers are different from students. The only white people at their schools were the authority and thus were assumed to be superior. It wasn’t until the age of 14 – FOURTEEN – that my friends actually came into contact with a white person of their own age who attended their same school, knew their same teachers and subjects, and could actually be their friend (and I sure am lucky that they gave me a chance. I don’t know if I were in their shoes, if I could do the same).

In 1971, the historic Swann v School Board case in Charlotte integrated schools with busing. Charlotte became the model city for how to – if controversially – successfully integrate public schools. In 1996, however, the school board started to back off of busing (due to protests by mostly white families), and by 2000, the schools rapidly began to resegregate. By 2010, Arthur Griffin, former chair of the school board from 2000, said in a WCNC article, “we just went further toward Jim Crow.” The system was officially resegregated.

Since then, the school board has addressed the issue lukewarmly. In 2016, it looked as if there might be a significant change when the school board planned student reassignment; however, once again, they chickened out under the pressure of mainly white parents chanting “bikes before buses” and “save our neighborhood schools.” Thus, in 2020 – 50 years after the Swann family went all the way to the Supreme Court just for their black child to be accepted into a white school – Charlotte’s segregated public schools are the disgrace of the state.

My high school friends and I have since graduated and are going on our third year of college. Three of them are my roommates. Besides my family, they have had the greatest impact on my life. It is our similarities that may have allowed us to become friends – the fact that we attended the same school and such – but it is our diversity that has allowed us to become sisters. They have allowed me the opportunity to understand what it means to be strong, patient, generous, compassionate, and beautiful in the face of racism, xenophobia, and ignorance, not to mention life, itself. They have taught me what it means to be awake. Without them – without the unique environment that is East Meck – I would be living like a sleepwalker.

But most kids in the CMS school system never had, are not having, and seem to will never have the opportunity for the life-changing and soul-strengthening relationships that we have had. This is tragedy, an embarrassment, and frankly, a sin. The CMS system is failing its students.

So, on Instagram, CMS says, “we will continue to defeat hate and racism." But they have hardly begun to fight. We all know that in order to improve society, we must start with the youth. So, while we’re all having these conversations about "what needs to be done,” let’s start by integrating the schools.

Cecilia Whalen, a junior at UNC Charlotte, is an East Mecklenburg High School graduate.


Hi! My name is julissa Alvarez and i am currently a sophmore at Clark Atlanta University, but i graduated from independence high school summer of 2019. I am currently doing research for a documentary that i am making and i have some questions about this article and would to continue the conversation surrounding CMS effort in ensuring that Diversity and inclusion is implemented to ensure Access to Quality education. hopefully we can connect!!
Posted on July 19, 2020

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