Posted on August 13, 2019

‘Separate Programs for Separate Communities’: California School District Agrees to Desegregate

Dana Goldstein and Anemona Hartocollis, New York Times, August 9, 2019

A California school district outside of San Francisco agreed to desegregate its schools on Friday, after a two-year state investigation found that the district had “knowingly and intentionally maintained and exacerbated” racial segregation and even established an intentionally segregated school.

Students in the district, Sausalito Marin City, are divided into two starkly different schools, according to the state Justice Department, which conducted the investigation: a thriving, racially and economically integrated charter school in the heavily white enclave of Sausalito, near the Golden Gate Bridge, and an overwhelmingly black, Hispanic and poor traditional public school about a mile away, in the more diverse community of Marin City.

The arrangement was no accident, Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, said on Friday, but a deliberate scheme by school district officials to set up a separate and unequal system that would keep low-income children of color out of a white enclave.


In the Sausalito case, the state said the district had violated the equal protection clause of the California Constitution. The action is part of a wave of new educational equity court actions from the left that relies on state law.


But the inquiry into the tiny Sausalito district began during Ms. Harris’s tenure as attorney general, noted Lily Adams, a campaign spokeswoman.


In 2013, against the wishes of many people in both Sausalito and Marin City, according to court papers, the district decided to move its elementary school from Sausalito to the campus of its middle school in Marin City. The resulting campus became Bayside-Martin Luther King Jr. Academy. Like Willow Creek, it served kindergarten through eighth grade.

At a district meeting in 2012, a district trustee, who is not named in court papers, “admitted that the plan to create separate programs for Sausalito and Marin City was motivated by a desire to create separate programs for separate communities,” according to the complaint. “This trustee also expressed it would improve community relations if students in Marin City were not ‘shipped over’ to Sausalito.”

Willow Creek, with about 400 students, prided itself on its diversity. In the 2018-19 school year, it was 41 percent white, 11 percent African-American, 25 percent Latino and 10 percent Asian, according to its website. In contrast, Bayside-Martin Luther King Jr. Academy, with about 119 students, was 7 percent white, 3 percent Asian, 49 percent African-American and 30 percent Latino, according to state statistics.

In court papers, the attorney general said that the district had systematically starved the school it ran of resources.


And the district was harsher in disciplining black and Hispanic students compared with white students than any other public school district in the state, the attorney general said.


District mismanagement, not racial antagonism, had led to the segregation problem, he added.

The Sausalito case focuses attention on a hotly contested argument in policy circles: whether charter schools significantly contribute to segregation. {snip}

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed, and serve about 6 percent of American public school students, most of whom live in cities. Supporters of charter schools point out that many were founded to serve low-income students of color, some of whom would otherwise attend segregated traditional schools.

There has been much less attention paid to suburban charter schools like the one in Sausalito, which sometimes serve high proportions of white students.


The settlement, filed in state court in San Francisco, calls for the district to create a committee of students, parents, teachers, community organizations and others to help it craft a desegregation plan for the Bayside-Martin Luther King Jr. school. The settlement will not force students to attend the school, the attorney general’s office said.

On Friday, the Sausalito Marin City superintendent, Itoco Garcia, said both the charter and the district had passed resolutions to explore pathways toward unifying the two schools.