Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Young Commuters

Young Commuters

Since many of the suburban school districts started school yesterday or today, many St. Louis city resident children have started school already. Many of them - including those in my neighborhood - wait on dark street corners for long bus rides, sometimes boarding the bus earlier than 6:00 AM, and typically before 7:00 AM. Their commutes can be more than one hour each way.

Although supposedly state law prohibits more than a 90 minute scheduled commute, traffic congestion can make their trips much longer. While some are placed in taxicabs, most ride school buses which make several stops in the city before heading out to the suburbs.

While the program has its detractors, the voluntary interdistrict desegregation program, run by the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation (formerly the Voluntary Interdistrict Coordinating Council - and still known as VICC), is nearly 25 years old, depending on how you measure it. It started in 1981 with five pilot districts, then expanded under a settlement agreeement in 1983. Despite the 1999 settlement of the desegregation case, still nearly 10,000 African-American city resident students attend schools in 15 of the school districts in St. Louis County.

And the St. Louis Magnet Schools are even older - coming up on 30 years this year; they were an early intervention by the judge in the Liddell case.

I was one of the early students in the County-to-City transfer program, the lesser known and much smaller program in which non-African-American students living in St. Louis County, about 1,500 a year at one point but now down to about 500, can choose to attend St. Louis Magnet Schools. I was one of only a few from the Mehlville School District.

I started attending St. Louis Magnet Schools in 2nd grade at Mallinckrodt ABI, in September 1986 - almost 19 years ago. I graduated from Metro High in May 1997. I know just how long those commutes can be; in fact, I rode some of those same buses that transported students out to Mehlville, albeit on a much less full bus and going in the same direction at the same time as traditional downtown-bound commuter traffic. (More of my educational history)

Anyway, enough about me. Just wanted to remind people this program still exists, although perhaps in five or ten years it will have completely disappeared. And I think the St. Louis region will be the poorer for having lost it - unless, of course, the entire region is successfully and harmoniously integrated.

Somehow, I doubt that will be the case.

So, I would not be surprised, although the courts might not be hospitable towards it, if in ten or fifteen years somebody sues at the Federal level all the school districts in the St. Louis region - including the Metro East and St. Charles and Jefferson Counties - for violation of Brown, the Civil Rights Act, etc. Sadly, I can only envision continued segregation or resegregation within most schools and especially in residential neighborhoods, throughout the St. Louis region.

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