Black Leaders Leaving DISD Along With Students

Tawnell D. Hobbs, Dallas Morning News, June 7, 2010

Second of two parts

[Part 1 of this series, “‘Black Flight’ Changing the Makeup of Dallas Schools,” can be read here.]

As the number of black children in Dallas ISD declined over the last decade, the number of black activists closely observing school board meetings has dwindled to a few in the audience.

And some leaders of a civil rights group that once battled for equal education in Dallas schools are now urging black parents to send their kids elsewhere. Some say the rising attention to the needs of children learning English is overshadowing the needs of black students.

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“It’s not a surprise to anybody that blacks are leaving DISD,” said Juanita Wallace, president of the Dallas NAACP. “We know that Hispanics are really taking over the school district. The whites are completely gone, and now blacks are going.”

The number of black students in DISD has fallen from 60,000 a decade ago to about 41,000 today. Meanwhile, suburban districts–such as Cedar Hill, Mansfield and DeSoto–and Dallas charter schools show growing numbers of black students. Though DISD’s overall enrollment of about 157,000 students is fairly flat, the percentage of Hispanic students has soared to 68 percent. The percentage of black students, the dominant group from 1975 to 1994, has dropped to 26 percent. White students now make up about 5 percent of the district, down sharply from 57 percent in 1970.

Hispanic focus denied

DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa did not voice concern about the drop in black students in a recent interview, saying that it is a trend reflected nationwide. But the decrease in Dallas is more than in other large Texas districts and most major districts nationwide. He disagreed that black children in DISD are being treated any differently.

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Hispanic leaders, some of whom battled alongside black leaders in the 1960s and ’70s for equal education, say it only makes sense that more focus be paid to Hispanic students because of their larger numbers and special needs, such as bilingual education. The district spends nearly $6.9 million a year on stipends for certified bilingual teachers. {snip}

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Diaz recently noted that he had a hard time identifying “Hispanic activists” to weigh in on the issue of blacks leaving the district–other than longtime activist and attorney Adelfa Callejo.

Callejo believes that blacks are “abandoning” DISD. She said it’s like history repeating itself–when whites fled DISD en masse after a 1971 federal court order to desegregate Dallas schools. The order meant the district would have to provide minority children with the same education that white children were receiving. In 2003, a federal judge declared DISD desegregated.

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Anthony Peterson is among the leaders of the Black Coalition to Maximize Education, a civil rights group that became a plaintiff in DISD’s decades-long desegregation suit. He has children in DISD’s magnet schools, which offer specialized instruction. He said he would not recommend sending black kids to regular district campuses. He, along with the group’s spokeswoman, Shirley Daniels, has encouraged parents to consider other options.

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Some parents in Dallas have varying reasons for bypassing DISD, including a belief that smaller educational environments are better–and safer–for their children.

Educator numbers

Some black leaders say that the district’s focus on Hispanic children has caused black veteran teachers to lose their jobs. Data on teacher experience by race wasn’t readily available, but the percentage of black teachers in DISD was at about 40 percent in 2008-09, the same as before Hinojosa’s arrival five years ago. The percentage of Hispanic teachers in DISD has increased since Hinojosa arrived, from almost 16 percent to 22 percent in 2008-09. The number of white teachers has declined during that time, from 42 percent to 35 percent.

Joyce Foreman, also a member of the Black Coalition to Maximize Education, said she’s not surprised that blacks are leaving DISD because the focus on their children has waned, citing cuts in funding to learning centers established as part of the desegregation order. {snip}

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