Friday, May 19, 2006

Civil Rights And Charters

I've been meaning to track this down for some time, but was finally prodded to do so after reading this morning's Times Union story about Martin Luther King III's visit to Brighter Choice Charter School in Albany yesterday.

It isn't a New York story, per se, but it has tremendous symbolic national significance - especially in light of all of the recent discussions over the unfinished business of Brown vs. Board of Ed.

As a bit of a background history lesson for those who have forgotten, the landmark civil rights case involved a young black girl in Topeka, Kansas, named Linda Brown. Linda wanted to attend an elementary school in Topeka called Sumner Elementary School. The school was the closest public school to her home, but did not allow black students to attend. The school district wanted Linda instead to attend Monroe Elementary School, which was where black students were expected to enroll.

The case, initiated by Linda Brown's father, Oliver, effectively outlawed racial segregation in public schools and shot down the notion that "separate but equal" access to a quality education was an acceptable standard for education policy.

What does this have to do with charter schools (aside from the fact that the essence of the case is something that is important to just about everyone involved in modern day education)? Well, the Sumner building - which is now on the historical register - happens to be vacant at the moment. It's just sitting there, mothballed. But a group of public school veterans is attempting to take possession of the building so that it can house an academy for at-risk students. "We're trying to propose a charter public school," Sandra Lassiter, one of the organizers told me today.

The group is insistent that the school that grows inside Sumner be a public school, and they believe that becoming a charter public school may be the best way to assure some degree of autonomy in exchange for accountability, Lassiter said.

The kicker: The group that is putting the charter school proposal together for Sumner includes Cheryl Brown, the sister of Linda Brown, of Brown vs. Board of Education fame.

A potentially interesting development in the rich history of Sumner. What was once a battlefield between whites and blacks could eventually emerge as a public charter school that serves special needs students of all races. (Thanks to Joe Nathan for the heads-up on this, by the way.)

It's good to see that the kids at Brighter Choice were engaged on the subject of Brown vs. Bd of Ed, and what it means in terms of access to quality education. And interesting to note that Martin Luther King III, like Cheryl Brown, sees some power behind giving parents more high quality choices in education. (See picture below from the MLK III visit.)

UPDATE: Check out this description of Cheryl Brown's credentials, emailed to me by an alert reader: "Cheryl Brown Henderson, in her own right, has greatly advanced the cause of educational opportunity for all." (You have to click on the link to see who said it.)


Disclaimer: The Chalkboard is hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) as a place where members, public education advocates and others can view and respond to informed commentary on timely public education and charter school issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the NYCSA, its board, or of any of its individual charter school members. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog. To comment on anything you read here, or to offer tips, advice, comments, or complaints. please contact TheChalkboard.