Readers Respond: Desegregation and Williams vs. Jacobs

Mary Pasciak, Buffalo News, March 7, 2011

Two topics recently generated a slew of e-mails from readers: desegregation vs. neighborhood schools, and Superintendent James Williams vs. board member Chris Jacobs.

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Here’s a sampling of the e-mails I received on those two recent issues. There’s no way I could possibly include all the e-mails, so I tried to pick a sample that would reflect the variety of viewpoints that readers shared. (In the case of Williams and Jacobs, the reason you don’t see any e-mails in support of the superintendent is because there simply weren’t any.)

A 1975 graduate of South Park High School shared her thoughts on “Unsaid in school debate: Where the white kids are” and “Why it matters where the white kids are”:

I have been reading the article regarding the future of South Park High and the busing issue. The forced busing was extremely ugly, and I thought surely they would stop it after the first year, which was disastrous; so many injuries occurred as a result.

While I agree with the concept of integration, the forced busing of East High School students to our school was nothing short of criminal. The East High students clearly didn’t want to be there, and the South Park students didn’t want them there.

I just tried to stay out of the fray, but it was very important during my time there that you make friends of every race and from every athletic team to survive. You didn’t dare go into a bathroom alone, and I quickly learned to enter school by the back doors to avoid the wars that occurred when the school buses pulled up.

To see this issue rising to the top again reinforces my thoughts at that time, if you force people to integrate, they simply won’t do it. Inside the school, there was simply no integration, so the busing really didn’t accomplish what they wanted anyway. I am not a prejudiced person and made friends with my classmates, but some students were very resistant because of the violence that occurred every morning.

A Buffalo resident wrote:

I was reading your blog about the return to neighborhood schools and a huge issue strikes me.

The issue isn’t whether or not Buffalo schools will be mostly white but why there seems to be an unspoken understanding that it is “ok” that suburban schools can be mostly white but city schools cannot.

The choice to desegregate only the city schools and not the regional system based on something that was considered a societal moral issue was shortsighted at best, deliberate at its worst. I have no argument against the reasons for desegregation but to stop such an important social concern at a political and invisible line, drawn in the 1850s, is absurd.

Any child, in any neighborhood of Buffalo, is going to grow up interacting with more races and lifestyles than just about any of the race-hypersensitive communities in the suburbs today. It is a shame how many people I know who consider parts of Tonawanda, Cheektowaga as places not worth investing in because of blacks are moving it, maybe if they went to schools that were not racially homogeneous, we wouldn’t still be having these arguments today, 40 years later.

It is appalling and just plain sad . . . The $64,000 question is why is it only the responsibility of the City of Buffalo alone to have integrated schools. When we know that neighborhood schools have so many other positive aspects to them that everyone would benefit from.

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A teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools wrote:

There have been countless times in recent years that the professionals in the Buffalo Public School system have been outright embarrassed by the words and/or deeds of Dr. Williams. It is unfair that he represents our educational community.

There are so many intelligent, dedicated and persevering professionals. We did not hire him. We did not hire his assistant superintendents (count them). We cannot fire him. We cannot criticize him. We must obey him. We do help elect the Board of Education, but as you know, the big deals go down behind closed doors, just like they do in Albany.

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Board member Chris Jacobs picked up on something Paladino mentioned–an increase in non-union administrators–and pressed Superintendent James Williams on it. Jacobs wanted to know whether there had, in fact, been such an increase in recent years.

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Williams: “Then, Chris, look at the budget book and you all can do what you all want to do. The man is stupid. He’s ignorant. And you all cater to that stupid stuff. I’m fed up with it. I’m through with him. I’m not going there.”

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Jacobs: “Let me just say something. I don’t agree with a lot that Mr. Paladino said. I have disagreed with him on many items. I have personally met with him to disagree, to tell him his focus needs to be on Albany. But I’m a board member, and when there’s a part of a presentation interests me, I have every right. And you have an obligation–”

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Williams: “I don’t have an obligation to–”

Jacobs: “You work for us.”

Williams: “I am sick of your craziness, Chris.”

Jacobs: “My craziness?”

Williams: “Yes, your craziness.”

It was about at that point that Jacobs gathered up his stuff and left.

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white


Chris Jacobs, school-board member.

black


James Williams, superintendent of schools.

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