by Kaitlyn Joshua for the Bayou Progressive
In case you hadn’t heard yet, on Thursday, April 7, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board voted to establish a 9 member plan at the Redistricting Special Meeting.
Sure, a 9 member plan would have been an acceptable compromise if said plan resulted in a Black majority, but that was not at all the case with the 9-member map that was ultimately adopted. The plan that was adopted – on a starkly racial line vote – would keep the current number of board members, but would result in transforming the board from 5 likely-white districts and 4 likely-Black districts to effectively 6 likely-white districts and 3 likely-Black districts – in a school district that is more than 71% black, mind you. Considering the demographic shifts over the past decade in the Parish, voting for a map that so blatantly ignores that is an atrocity and is racist – plain and simple.
We’ve been mobilizing community members around the redistricting process for months. We ensured that citizens had the tools and resources to speak articulately and informed during public comments when the final vote approached. The room was full of people pleading with the school board to do the right thing and adopt the 11 member plan that was proposed by school board members Evelyn Ware-Jackson and Dawn Chanet Collins. Despite all of this public engagement and zero public support for the 9 member plan, the votes still fell down racial/party lines.
This was a disappointment, for sure. But that doesn’t mean this is where the fight ends. Groups like the Power Coalition for Equity & Justice and our partners will be strategizing to defeat the approved map because we believe it’s illegal as it relates to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
But this isn’t the only attack on our schools here in the capital area. Earlier on the same day of the school board vote, members of the Louisiana Senate Education Committee passed a bill by Senator Bodi White (R-Central) that would gerrymander the Central School District to remove a specific, predominantly Black neighborhood from the district, depriving it of access to one of the top rated public schools in the state.
In addition, another bill from that same committee was passed that would allow parents to divest from public schools and take the taxpayer money with them to private institutions, quite literally gutting the public school system by funneling the money to private schools. This would not only give an advantage to some students and disadvantage low-income, minority students, it would also effectively legalize racial segregation in our public school system, a direct violation of the famous Brown v. Board of Education case that ended racial segregation of public schools 68 years ago.
There is an ongoing, silent attack on our public schools in Louisiana. It’s been subtle, it’s been sustained, but it’s also been building for quite some time. Small bites at the edges of a system that was intended to be a great equalizer, but has more often recently been subjected to special interests who only care about profits and maintaining the current status quo of power and control in our community.
It will take every single one of us that believes in the power and potential of our public school system and wants to continue living in a modern, integrated society to defeat this effort. But our community deserves – no, it needs – fully funded community-based public schools that serve the immediate community around it, regardless of where the students come from or what they look like. And we deserve a school system that reflects the students it serves.
We think that’s a fight worth fighting for. And we intend to be right in the thick of it.
About Author / Kaitlyn Joshua
Kaitlyn Joshua is a Community Organizer for the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice. Kaitlyn Joshua was born and raised in Baton Rouge, and continues to reside there with her husband, Landon Joshua, and their young daughter, Lauryn. As a Louisiana native, Kaitlyn is passionate about making this state a better place to live for everyone. She believes that through activism and organizing we can build a more equitable community, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. For her, that is the real work of the Lord. Disrupting systemic oppression starts with making sure everyone has an opportunity to make a living wage, attend great schools, and ensure that their vote is counted.