School dismissal at River Hill High School. Howard County public schools are contemplating a proposal to redistribute some 7,400 students to different schools in part to address the economic segregation that leaves poor students concentrated in some schools.
School dismissal at River Hill High School. Howard County public schools are contemplating a proposal to redistribute some 7,400 students to different schools in part to address the economic segregation that leaves poor students concentrated in some schools. (Baltimore Sun Staff)

I want to thank the Baltimore Sun for their coverage of school redistricting in Howard County (Howard County’s redistricting plan: Progress but not pain-free ," Sept. 10).

As a 2013 graduate of Reservoir High School, this issue is deeply personal for me. Although I thrived as a student in Howard County Public Schools (K-8 at Hammond Elementary and Middle), I can reflect now and see that my education was lacking in crucial ways that can only be addressed by increasing equity across the school district. Reservoir High sits somewhere in the middle of Howard County schools in its percentage of students receiving free and reduced meals, however, segregation by academic track was readily apparent in my time there, even as a high school student with a weak understanding of race.

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This segregation did not magically appear. It was the result of the complex ways that economic inequality impact housing options and the demographic composition of our schools. Despite the brilliant educators and students in all Howard County schools, a lack of economic diversity has impacted academic outcomes. The processes that have led to our current structures of economic and racial inequality are deeply complex. As a masters of social work candidate, I study our country’s history of segregation policy. Everyday I learn more about how we can participate in and perpetuate systems of inequality, despite having the best of intentions about creating a more diverse and equitable world. I did not learn about ongoing structural racism and economic inequality until I reached university. It was only then that I was forced to reckon with my white, middle class privilege and the harm I had done to my grade school peers through my unconscious biases and behavior.

I know that everyone who cares about this redistricting process wants what is best for their communities and families. There are real impacts to families who will have to contend with longer bus rides and increased childcare needs should this proposal be implemented. Ignoring these facts helps no one. However, we also stand to gain stronger and deeper communities. As the Baltimore Sun has reported, studies have shown that school integration measures increase academic performance and lead to connections across race and class lines. Most importantly, they ensure that resources are more equitably spread across schools and that all children have a chance to succeed. We can only make change when we see that the net gain to ourselves and our community is exponentially greater with action. Redistricting will make our communities stronger and our students better prepared to face a challenging world.

This issue is both deeply personal and deeply political, and it is important to recognize this if we are to come together as a community. Failing to confront inequitable systems harms all of us, even those with relative privilege. I must continuously relearn ideas that I was socialized to believe despite having loving parents who believe in diversity. These ideas have harmed my community and are heart-wrenching to contend with. Redistricting Howard County schools will not be a magical solution to these processes of socialization, but they are an important step in rewriting what this socialization looks like.

I want to be clear. This is an issue of structural racism in addition to economic inequality. Yes, the county is using metrics of free and reduced meals to draw new boundaries. But race and class are inextricably linked in the United States. Policies of mass incarceration and housing discrimination have systemically disinvested and extracted wealth from black and brown communities. In the mid-20th century, the Federal Housing Administration guaranteed mortgages for homes in suburban developments that were restricted to white buyers. Home ownership is a major factor in building intergenerational wealth, and this was one of many federal policies that specifically excluded black families from wealth building. We continue to see the impacts of housing discrimination in the current racial wealth gap and the ways in which Howard County school districts grow and develop. This school redistricting is an effort to address inequality in both race and class.

I graduated from one of the top public school systems in the country and I am grateful for everything I learned. But I strongly believe that if we love something that we must make it better. The road to equity is not straight and easy (and this redistricting alone won’t bring us to the end of it), but we will be so much stronger as a community if we take these first steps together.

Xandi Barrett, Laurel

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