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Event will look at past efforts to integrate schools in Seattle and what can be done now

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
File photo: In this photo taken Jan. 11, 2012, students filled the halls at Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle. Aki Kurose is one of the schools that counts as "intensely segregated," meaning its student population is more than 90 percent non-white.

May 17 is the 65th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision that said segregating public schools by race was unconstitutional.

Many public schools in Seattle remain segregated in spite of past efforts to address that, including several decades of busing. A national nonprofit group, Integrated Schools, is hosting an event on Thursday, May 16, examining racial divides in Seattle schools, what’s worked and what hasn’t worked and “how to disrupt segregation now.”

Ali McKay leads the Seattle chapter of Integrated Schools and has two children who attend Lowell Elementary School in Seattle. Students of color make up about three-quarters of Lowell's student population. McKay is white and said she chose the school partly because she wanted her children to be educated in a racially mixed environment.

“We felt it was more important for them to be at a school that reflected reality, the world, and looked more like the world rather than a sort of segregated, whiter bubble,” McKay said.

Panelists at the event include Nancy Beadie, a University of Washington professor and expert on the history of education policy; Stephan Blanford, executive in residence at the Seattle Foundation and a former Seattle Public Schools board director; Brent Jones, chief officer for equity, partnerships and engagement at Seattle Public Schools; and Cece Chan, a senior at Nathan Hale High School and member of the NAACP Youth Coalition.

There will also be breakout sessions examining various topics including how to make parent-teacher-student associations more about advocacy and less about fundraising and how to change the narrative around so-called “good” and “bad” schools.

The history of trying to achieve more school integration in Seattle has been rocky.

In response to a 1977 lawsuit filed by the NAACP and other groups, the Seattle school district tried to integrate schools through a mandatory district-wide busing system. That system continued into the 1990s, but the district eventually gave it up because of waning public support and concerns about whether it was benefiting students, according to HistoryLink.

The school district then began using race as one tiebreaker in assigning students to schools as a way to increase integration, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a split decision in 2007 in the Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District case that the district’s voluntary integration plan was unconstitutional.

A recent study found that Seattle schools have become more segregated since 1990 even as the city’s neighborhoods have become more racially mixed.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.