Kevin W. Cosby, Ph.D.

Forty years ago, three local Black pastors appeared on the front page of The Courier Journal to denounce two patently racist transportation-related decisions by the Jefferson County School Board.

  • The first: A modification of its busing plan whereby the majority of Black students from West Louisville would be forcibly bused to the county’s suburban schools. White students, however, would face no such compulsory transportation and retain their neighborhood school of choice.

  • When it came time for the district to put forward desegregation data, those white students who opted to leave their home school for magnet programs in the city would count the same as Black students who were forced to attend suburban schools. This sleight of data allowed misleading claims that thousands of white students were still being bused in support of integration efforts. The actual number was far, far less. At the time, the lone Black board member opposed the measure, and the plan was accurately characterized by the Black pastors as “unfair, elitist, and racist.”

Today, it is another Black pastor in the community who is taking to these pages in response to yet another abysmal transportation decision by the JCPS. It is a decision that will undoubtedly negatively impact so many Black families here in the district’s western portion.

In a 4-3 vote split along racial lines, the school board voted earlier this week to eliminate bus transportation to the county’s magnet schools. This now leaves well over 14,000 students who have relied on guaranteed busing to either find alternative transportation or enroll their children in their “resides,” or neighborhood school. Black folk have gone, in effect, from the back of the bus to the lack of a bus.

The school board’s decision occurs amid a backdrop of JCPS transportation operations dysfunction, something that entails a dramatic shortage of bus drivers. Some drivers who have resigned cited the difficulties of unruly, sometimes violent students as motivating their departure. But such behavior is a symptom of the much deeper issue at play: The unimaginably desperate conditions of the Black community. Importantly, that environment is not, as many would claim, the outcome of Black people’s supposed deficiencies. But rather it is the environment that has been created through the tool of public policy—a tool which, in America, and certainly here in Louisville—has long sought to deprive Black people of the same positive opportunities it has afforded to white society.

JCPS ignored transportation audit results and failed 20,000 students.

JCPS Policy alone is not to blame

But it is not policy alone that is to blame. After all, some policies in American history have indeed facilitated the upward socioeconomic mobility among Black people. And so it is also in part how the professional class in the Black community, the people who were able to leave that desperate environment behind, never looked back on those families who remained there. As W.E.B. DuBois said: Those who make up the Black professional class—the Talented Tenth, as he called them—are like the yeast of the Black community. And how, without the yeast present, is the community as a whole then possibly able to rise? It cannot, so long as it is missing that essential ingredient.

These children whom the bus drivers say lack discipline are not lost, they are left behind. And if the four white school board members are to dictate the policies of a district whose minority enrollment is 60%—policies that strip parents of guaranteed transportation for their children and that undo the efforts to integrate our schools—then the mission for Black leaders could not be clearer.

Those of us who are in a position to do so must focus our energy and our resources back into the Black community. We must be vigilant in resisting the personal incentives to turn a blind eye to their despair, or to reject our Black institutions. We must commit to building them up and working every day to repair the ways in which the status quo ensures the permanence of Black disadvantage.

Kevin W. Cosby, Ph.D.Kevin W. Cosby, Ph.D.

Kevin W. Cosby, Ph.D.

Kevin W. Cosby, Ph.D., President, Simmons College of Kentucky and Pastor, St. Stephen Church

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: JPCS deprives Black students by ending magnet school busing

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