Let’s start with some facts:
- The Rochester City School District has a student population that is 90% Black or brown.
- The closest neighboring school district to the east has a student population that is 83% white.
- Racial covenants were a legal way to keep Black and brown families out of Penfield (and other towns and neighborhoods). They were legal until the 1960s. Clearly their legacy continues.
In his book The Color of Law, the author; Richard Rothstein describes how the federal government perpetuated segregation. He writes, the Federal Housing Administration “furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods — a policy known as “redlining.” At the same time, the FHA was subsidizing builders who were mass-producing entire subdivisions for whites — with the requirement that none of the homes be sold to African-Americans.” These policies shape the current, and still segregated city of Rochester and surrounding suburbs, and therefore the Rochester City School District. As an educator in the Rochester City School District I see first hand that de facto racial and economic segregation continues. The impacts of this are vast. Some more facts:
- Monroe County contributes ZERO dollars to the Rochester City School District. Every other county in the state pays into their city school district budget, including our close neighbors in Erie County who contributed $47 million dollars from the county sales tax to the Buffalo City School District in 2019-2020 alone(Buffalo Budget Doc)
- Out of the 21 school districts in Monroe County 6 still do not participate in the Urban-Suburban program, which is an insufficient solution to solving the historical segregation of Black students from White students. There is also yearly racist debate in the participating suburbs about why or if they should participate in the program, as though admitting a handful of Black students from the city of Rochester would contaminate the entire district. Spencerport, I’m looking at you here.
- The Rochester City School District also has the highest needs students in the district, something that isn’t an accident, as Justin Murphy investigated and released expansive data showing that the surrounding suburban school districts actually push out students with Special Needs and students who speak English as a second language, concentrating them in the RCSD and stretching the city’s already thin budget as they work to meet the needs of these students.
We must act with real solutions so that the racist history of redlining, racial covenants, and segregation that robbed Black families of wealth, health, and prosperity are remedied. A potential solution to the continued legacy of the legal and de facto segregation of Black families in Rochester that is often floated is a county wide school system. This would combine all the students in the county and the city as well as the resources. This “solution” comes with it’s own problems. The loss of Black educators being one possibility. After Brown v. Board of Education ended legal segregation, it had the unintended consequence of the loss of Black educators. One author writes, “It caused the dismissal, demotion, or forced resignation of many experienced, highly credentialed black educators who staffed black-only schools. After the decision, tens of thousands of black teachers and principals lost their jobs as white superintendents began to integrate schools but balked at putting black educators in positions of authority over white teachers or students.” (Article) The RCSD has struggled for years with hiring and retaining Black teachers, Black teachers currently only make up 13% of the RCSD’s teachers, while neighboring school districts have almost no Black teachers. (MOULE)
Of course, another potential problem that could arise with a county wide school district is the further marginalization of our Black and brown students. While the RCSD has a long way to go to become anti-racist, many schools have Black school leadership, many Black educators, and are able to center Black students and Black culture. The fear of losing this important perspective if we moved to a countywide school district is real.
It is clear that racism is at the heart of the resistance to any change at a county level to remedy the lasting impacts of racist laws that have led to the continued racial and economic segregation of the students and families in the city of Rochester. I believe we need to name the individuals and towns who continue to perpetuate racist systems-these are not imaginary entities. We can and should call out Monroe County legislators, town supervisors, and other elected leaders by name who refuse to confront the glaring inequities before them. In addition, Monroe County elected leaders who allow ZERO funding to go to the Rochester City School District should be held accountable. The banks responsible for denying mortgages to Black families share an equal blame in the harm caused, and should not get off the hook.
There is a lot of money owed to Black families in Rochester. It’s time the collection of reparations began.
About Claire Labrosa
(she/her/hers) Claire Labrosa is an English as a New Language teacher in the Rochester City School District, and a founding member of the Rochester Organization of Rank and File Educators (RORE) a social justice caucus in the RTA. Claire is a lifelong Rochester resident, a graduate of the RCSD, and a passionate advocate for equitable and fully funded public education.