Words can be powerful, something Allan Taylor may have forgotten.
A group of parents is not happy with Connecticut State Board of Education Chair who they say lost their trust. They’re calling for his resignation after he tried to rationalize a racially insensitive comment he made in January, in reference to the racial imbalance at McKinley School in Fairfield.
Originally reported by the Connecticut Post, during a discussion on the racial imbalance at McKinley School in Fairfield, he used the term “ghetto” to describe a concentration of minority students, saying: “We don’t want to create ghettos in Fairfield.”
“I would come and attend board meetings… hopeful that I was at least being listened to and taken seriously,” said Waterbury parent Athena Wagner. She was among a half dozen parents who met with the Black And Puerto Rican Caucus last week. “I have no more trust in his decision making or his fairness.”
The calls for resignation came after State Senate Minority leader Sen. Len Fasano (R -34) asked Taylor to apologize. In response, to Fasano’s email, Taylor attempted to explain his statement:
“ … I began by acknowledging both the strong support we had heard from McKinley parents and the excellence of the schools evident in its results. In that context, and to emphasize the importance of avoiding the creation of additional imbalanced schools, I state that even with good results, “We don’t want to create ghettos in Fairfield.” I used the term “ghetto” in the sense of areas of minority racial and ethnic concentration…”
There’s A Difference Between “Ghetto” And “Urban”
“There’s a big difference from being ghetto and being urban,” said grandparent Mary Sanders after the caucus meeting, This is at the heart of why parents are upset at Taylor.
While he’s right about the technical definition of the word ‘ghetto,’ no matter how you slice, it’s a racially-charged word, that in common use, is often pejorative.
Its exact root is hard to trace, according to Camila Domonske, who writes for NPR’s Podcast Code Switch. Throughout most of its history “ghetto” was used to describe segregated Jewish communities in Europe, but around the 1960s and 70s, people began using it to describe poor, segregated black neighborhoods. Modern usage often has a negative, classist connotation.
When someone says something is “ghetto,” they’re talking about” poverty or poor behavior,” says Domonske — and, that’s not the only trouble with Taylor’s statement.
How Is A Racially Diverse School The Problem?
McKinley School’s population is about 49 percent minority students, while the rest of Fairfield’s black and Hispanic student enrollment hovers around 20 percent. The reason McKinley’s enrollment is an issue is because of a 1969 racial imbalance law, which was meant to prevent school segregation. Here’s what the law states:
“SBE [the State Board of Education] regulations further define as “racially imbalanced” any school in which the percentage of minority students enrolled falls outside the range of 25 percentage points more or less than the district-wide percentage. For example, in a school district that, as a whole, has a minority enrollment of 50%, any school that is less than 25% or more than 75% minority would be considered racially imbalanced.”
McKinley has trouble complying with this law not because it’s racially isolated, but because it’s not.
Unlike the rest of Fairfield, McKinley is a rare example of self-integration and for that, the state was thinking of redistricting the school? We’re talking about a school that’s diverse and doing well.
Taylor’s warning to the district not to “create ghettos” falls in line with a lot of the same thinking that led Hartford to deny students of color from open seats at Sheff magnet schools. The state misses the point. Once again, making the glaringly problematic assumption that a school will automatically deteriorate because more children of color attend it.
These laws were meant to prevent racial isolation, but not for that goal alone. The point wasn’t to play musical chairs with students because of some arbitrary racial balance ratios the state came up with over 50 years ago. The point was to improve education.
Here’s a link to Allan Taylor’s Letter To Fasano: