The obscenity of segregation in Barnstable

Something obscene in the Town of Barnstable

Whatever the excuse, segregation is obscene

By Walter Brooks

I am well into my 80s and have worked in media for more than 60 years.  I traveled the South in the waning days of Jim Crow, covered the civil rights movement of the 1960s, sat slack-jawed as the Boston busing crisis erupted in the 1970s and watched the changing population of Cape Cod all these many years.

When my wife Pat and I moved to the Cape full-time in the 1960s, we specifically chose Harwich as the place to raise our sons because of the ethnic and economic diversity of its schools back when a significant percentage of the town was Cape Verdean.

Segregation is obscene no matter the excuses

In 2012 we have a bi-racial President, a black Governor and a rich, diverse culture here on the Cape.  And then there’s the Barnstable Public Schools and its de-facto segregated Hyannis West Elementary School – a school where most of the town’s economically disadvantaged, English-learner and ethnic minority students are kept.  Our recent stories on the Hyannis West topic have drawn a lively discussion locally and also have evoked many unpleasant memories of days past.

Segregation is an obscene thing, no matter the excuses.

Barnstable’s superintendent and school board wrote a letter this past week characterizing the demographics at Hyannis West as something demanded by the Hyannis village population and facilitated by political pressure from the town council and school board amidst noisy public meetings.  That’s fine.  South Boston and Roxbury didn’t particularly want to exchange students back in 1974.  They wanted their children educated in their own neighborhoods and Judge Garrity ruled otherwise.

Unacceptable Performance

In Hyannis West we have not only a de-facto state of segregation but a segregated school that performs substantially lower on the MCAS than do the other schools in Barnstable.  In her letter of October 28th, HyWest principal Kathi Amato mentions the need to “continue to advocate for resources that put us on a level playing field.”  We fancy that even she knows in her heart, that Hyannis West’s children are not treated equally by the Town of Barnstable.  In fact, if one supports the Annenberg Institute for School Reform’s 2010 study, some 43 percent of Hyannis West’s third graders will still be struggling to read well when they’re in the ninth grade.

That is obscene.

The third graders at Hyannis West can take a walking field trip through downtown Hyannis to the Zion Union Heritage Museum and learn about the journey taken by people of color on Cape Cod since the 1620.  Then they can visit the JFK Hyannis Museum and bask in the light of the civil rights movement. 

Then they can go back to their segregated, under-funded little school and figure out which 43 percent of them still won’t be able to read well in 2018.

Martin Luther King died so that every American child would receive an equal education.

To borrow the words of Elizabeth Warren, this isn’t a conversation we should be having in 2012 – especially about a school in Massachusetts – in the very hometown of Jack and Bobby Kennedy.

It’s just obscene.

Sometimes it doesn’t take a village…

Almost everyone we speak with outside of Barnstable is appalled by the Hyannis West situation.  They ask if the “village” knew what they were doing to the kids when they created a segregated school.  One of the most memorable comments we heard last week was, “It takes a village to RAZE a child.”

I don’t usually advocate throwing money at a problem, however Hyannis West cries out at so many levels the Town of Barnstable simply must fund that school to the level where it provides an education equal to its other schools.  Make no mistake, we are hectoring this issue because the children attending Hyannis West deserve better.

Regardless of the best intentions of the village, a school that turns out to be racially or economically segregated is unacceptable in 2012. 

It is time for Barnstable to step up and take responsibility for this obscene situation.


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