Desegregation is not dead


Nell Jaskowiak

Missouri Central school buses wait outside of West High to take city students home in the afternoon. The VICC provides one round trip to and from school for its students, including transportation home if they choose to participate in school-sponsored after school activities; the average ride time is 54 minutes.

With a 10.8 percent African-American and a 71.9 percent white population, West High school is not exactly an exemplar of diversity. The statistics have been growing more disparate in recent years, and this image was mirrored across many St. Louis County schools. To remedy this, the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC) was created in 1981 as an attempt to desegregate both city and county schools; this year West has enrolled 96 city students.

Those 96 students make up 7.14 percent of the total student body, and losing them would reverberate throughout the school both educationally and culturally. As it turns out, that is exactly what is going to happen. As of the 2018-19 school year, the VICC will be rolling back its numbers until its complete shutdown in 2023-24. Ending this program will drastically lower the level of diversity at West High and quality of education that thousands of students experience everyday.

While accreditation is an important step and a baseline for the quality of education that a student can get in a particular district, accreditation alone does not paint the whole picture and certainly does not make two districts equal. West High is currently ranked 12th out of all Missouri high schools, while Saint Louis Public Schools (excluding their magnet schools) are ranked 37th and below. Every student deserves the opportunity to have a strong education to set them up for a future of success, and ending this voluntary transfer program strips African-American city students of access to a more comprehensive and rigorous high school program.

Even more than education, the most visible repercussion of ending the VICC will be far less diversity in county schools, and with that comes far fewer viewpoints to come together in discussion, foster bonds and gain understanding. Lowering the diversity level at West by taking away such a vast amount of our minority population will make it harder for all of us to really learn the challenges that people are facing in the world around us, harder for all of us to work together and find practical solutions, harder for all of us to just connect with one another. The real-world is a diverse place, and it is important that our schools mirror that and prepare us to engage in dialogue and get out of our comfort zones.

West County is known for being a highly insulated enclave of the Saint Louis area, and ending the VICC only sends us further into this small, white world of ours. The “West County bubble” allows us to relax and not worry about the world around us, to block out all of the noise of politics and societal problems—it does not make them go away. It is the responsibility of every single one of us as young people to make the world the place we want it to be, and we cannot possibly achieve that if we stay within our bubble. We need diversity and the VICC gives it to us.

Society as a whole has a duty to educate its children to the best of its ability, both in the academic world and beyond, and ending the VICC is failing in that duty. City students deserve the high standard of education that Parkway embodies, and both city and county students benefit immensely from the cultural exchange and familiarity that comes with it. Voluntary desegregation is just as relevant today as it was when it was first introduced, and it needs to remain for our communities to be strong.