Q&A with Harvey Grossman

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Harvey Grossman

Photo by Jason Reblando

Harvey Grossman

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois is one of several groups that have filed “friend of the court” briefs in the federal case that will determine whether Chicago Public Schools is released from its long-standing desegregation consent decree. Harvey Grossman says the district still owes a debt to children in segregated communities and needs oversight to ensure that resources are distributed equitably. Grossman spoke with writer Cassie del Pilar.

Arne Duncan says the district is committed to integration. Can the public trust the district?

The issue of equity ought to be transparent. We ought to be able to readily identify equities and inequitable situations, but it’s very, very difficult to do that from the data [the district] has out there. The board ought not to be seeking to escape the consent decree, or thinking that it is a waste of resources to be in court, or paying lawyers to get out of the decree. There’s no reason for the district not to want to continue to do its best to seek equity and ensure diverse learning environments.

How well has CPS done thus far in compensating racially isolated schools?

CPS has a very rocky record under the consent decree. It has initiated and terminated numerous programs that never really got off the ground or had an opportunity to produce results. There has been a history of non-enforcement of the decree by the Justice Department, during the Reagan Administration and the first Bush Administration. There has been no interest whatsoever in enforcement by the federal government during the course of the decree. Effective, meaningful enforcement simply didn’t take place.

There’s been a lot of talk about whether it’s practical or realistic to integrate a system with such a small proportion of white students. How do you feel about that?

There is more that could be done in terms of choosing locations for magnet schools. If you do it in the heart of the North Side, you obviously are most likely to draw white children. If you do it on the borders of communities, you are more likely to get a mix.

If the decree is lifted, what do you think will happen to magnet or to racially isolated schools?

We don’t really know. We’ve asked and stressed to the court that before the district is allowed to get out from under the decree, it should tell us what will happen to magnet schools, transfers [of African-American children to largely white schools] and school boundaries. What will the enrollment process be at the selective admissions school? We need to have that kind of information before the court ought to let the district out from under its obligations.

Courts in general seem to be moving away from race-based admission, but many people like more diversity. What other policies can ensure it?

We think that the law will permit the district to continue to use race as a consideration in admissions, and that the district ought to do that.

Should students displaced by Renaissance 2010 be able to take advantage of desegregation transfers?

There would never be enough seats. When you asked me about whether the school district could be trusted without the decree, I think that the issue of these transfers is, unfortunately, probably indicative of what the district may or may not do without a decree. If you recall, they took the position at the beginning of the 2004-05 school year that they had no seats for minority transfers at all. We objected to that and provided figures. The Justice Department objected and produced some figures. And before it was over, I think hundreds of seats were available.

How do you think the budget affects this?

Even with limited resources, reallocating resources with a view toward what’s necessary to [support] children in racially isolated schools has to be kept in mind.