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High School Redistricting Will Sting For a Long Time

The school district gets rewarded for racist policies but the little guys learn some lessons.

Editor's note: Kate Galer, who is the president of Lower Merion Voices United For Equity in Education (LMVUE), is an blogger on Ardmore Patch. Anyone who lives or works in the Ardmore Patch area is welcome to blog on Patch. For more information, email editor Amanda Mahnke at ardmore@patch.com, or visit our blogging page and click "Post on Patch."

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Last week, I wrote about having to .  At the beginning of that blog, I alluded to the fact that he has to go to Harriton rather than having the choice to walk to because of the High School Redistricting of 2009.  I said that that was a whole other story. Well, here is a condensed version of that story:  

Humph.  Well today the Supreme Court of the United States (LMSD).  For those of you who don't know what this was, simply put, it was a lawsuit filed in reaction to the high school redistricting that took place 3 1/2 years ago where choice of which high school half the kids in Ardmore could go to was taken away.

Before 2009, this area of Ardmore had always had choice and we can easily walk to LM.  The reason that choice was taken away is because the people in Ardmore have the audacity to be black. Or the audacity to live in a neighborhood with black people. A diverse neighborhood, some might say.

LMSD decided they needed to take half of those black kids and send them to Harriton High School in the name of such "diversity." Using the color of their skin to assign them to a school and forcibly bus them to that school rather than allowing them the choice to walk to their neighborhood school. Let it also be noted that Lower Merion High School is the only public neighborhood school Ardmore has left. No neighborhood elementary or middle school (see Bala Cynwyd).

What kind of "diversity" do you get when you dilute an already small minority population? Token diversity. Meaningless.  Sounds like it should be illegal, doesn't it?  At the very least immoral and unethical?  

When redistricting was taking place, the school board and the administration at the time listened to and received hundreds of comments in opposition to taking away choice for Ardmore.  Many of us practically begged to be allowed to keep choice.  The reasons seemed and still seem obvious but fell on deaf ears.

Let me tell you a few of the reasons - we can walk to LM, less busing, less pollution, some parents don't have cars and getting to Harriton off hours could be difficult, it is racist to send kids to a school because of skin color, generations that live in the same house had parents and grandparents that went to LM and now their kids won't be allowed to, it is racist and classist to take the neighborhood with the lowest incomes in the township and place more of a burden on them to access their education.

And before you respond that "things aren't really like that" - they are.  Much of Ardmore is still working or middle class.  On my street there are a bunch of households headed by single women.  My neighbors are postal workers and cafeteria ladies, dog sitters and lab techs, contractors and plumbers. 

So when this all went down, most of us couldn't get past the fact that it was just plain wrong. But, the school district did it anyway. Gavel down, done.

In response,  a group of African American students and their families filed suit against the School District for the use of race in redistricting. All they asked for was choice of which high school they could attend. No money from the School District, nothing but high school choice. The families "Doe" needed a lawyer and help paying for that lawyer so Lower Merion Voices United for Equity in Education (LMVUE) formed.

LMVUE consists of a lot of different people from Ardmore and Narberth - people who live in the choice area and people in "the box." We found a lawyer who was willing to work for little pay and put in a lot of hours, David Arnold. The school district found a lawyer who was willing to work for a lot of money, put in some hours to make that money and advise against settling the suit so she could continue to make money.

LMVUE held our famous spaghetti dinners, yard sales, selling candy at movie night at , and general begging to raise a hundred dollars here, a hundred dollars there just to pay for copying for the case.

LMSD and the school board voted to not settle the case and protect themselves by voting to keep paying the lawyer on the case.  Time goes on and the case goes through the courts and finally ends up at the Supreme Court. The Doe Families decided to keep going and apply to be heard before the Supreme Court.  

Today, the case was denied a hearing before the Supreme Court. So, that's it, the case is over.  Years of grassroots organization, making pasta and washing dishes, selling things on eBay to pay the lawyer and hoping that the little guys would win this one are washed away in about two sentences that the petition was denied by the Supreme Court.

While this makes me sad and mad and all the range of emotions in between, we have to look at what we learned from this and what we gained as a neighborhood.

We got to meet people we never would have met.  We formed a bond as a neighborhood that will help us into the future.  We learned that we need to be represented as a neighborhood and in values on the school board. We learned that our neighborhood has consistently been broken up over the years by the school district and commissioner wards to lessen our power in the township.  We learned that we need to overcome that and get a voice for Ardmore so we don't let this happen to us again. We opened up a dialogue about race and class and power in  Ardmore and Lower Merion that is often buried.

As new families with children have moved into the "box," they frequently assume that their children will be able to go to Lower Merion. They are confused when told that their children will have to go to Harriton.  

But, maybe they won't.  Things can still change.  If we look at the , the enrollment at Harriton and Lower Merion High Schools is almost equal and by 2021, it is projected that there will be more students at Harriton.

Letting the children of Ardmore have choice to go to their neighborhood high school, to walk the sidewalks that their parents and generations of Ardmorians have walked to school doesn't involve redistricting (although judging by the elementary school demographic projections there will have to be some sort of redistricting soon anyway).  It just involves giving us back choice.  

Even though the Doe case is over, there is still time for the current school board and the school district administration to do the right thing.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kim Andrews June 19, 2012 at 03:02 AM
The intraction of the Lm school board around this issue is disgraceful. They have used our tax money to fight against us. Ardmore continues to be the target of institutionalized class- and race-based abuse from the rest of the township, and the continuing division of our town into two schools has successfully neutralized us politically. For shame, Lower Merion.
Anne June 19, 2012 at 01:09 PM
A proofreader's note: "I eluded to the fact" should be alluded. Elude means "evade or escape from (a danger, enemy, or pursuer), typically in a skillful or cunning way". Allude means "suggest or call attention to indirectly; hint at". Given the number of misspelling substitutions like this that I see in newspapers, blogs, and even books, I wonder how well grammar and spelling have been taught in our nation's schools over the past 30 or 40 years.
Kate Galer June 19, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Yes - I realized that as soon as it was published and was going to send out a correction. Thanks. Philadelphia Public school education...
Amanda Mahnke June 19, 2012 at 03:48 PM
This has been corrected at Kate's request. Thanks for the catch!
Michael Alexander June 22, 2012 at 03:34 PM
As a Narberth resident, my son will also have to attend Harriton. In fact, to get there one has to first drive right past LM. It is especially annoying because, living in North Narberth, our kids aren't able to walk to any of their schools even though there do exist schools walking distance away. However, when I look at the school rankings from Newsweek, it makes me feel a little better that Harriton is ranked higher than LM.

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