Shedding the legacy of segregation in our schools - article title
By Kimberly Sellery
In 1965, 5-year-old Ida Green participated in an integration effort in the Sausalito-Marin City School District stemming from a California Department of Education finding that the district’s schools were segregated.

Today, Green is board president of the Sausalito-Marin City School District, which is once again under desegregation orders, this time from former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in an August 2019 ruling.

Shedding the legacy of segregation in our schools - article title
By Kimberly Sellery
In 1965, 5-year-old Ida Green participated in an integration effort in the Sausalito-Marin City School District stemming from a California Department of Education finding that the district’s schools were segregated.

Today, Green is board president of the Sausalito-Marin City School District, which is once again under desegregation orders, this time from former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in an August 2019 ruling.

Neighborhood and children

is abundantly clear we are not the only district with issues related to segregation. This desegregation order is a full circle moment for me,” Green said. “I had no control of the course of action as a child, but today I am in a unique position to lead the school community to take corrective actions and be more accountable to the greater community, especially the ones who matter most — the children.”

To understand how the schools became segregated, then integrated, then segregated again, it is necessary to understand the history of the area and how the story of this district is reflected across California and the entire nation. The story really starts in the 1940s, when a diverse group of people migrated to the area for war-related work and were provided temporary housing. After the war, white ship builders were able to move throughout the Bay Area, but racist laws and redlining prevented the Black community from moving at all. The temporary housing became a public housing complex that is still in Marin City today, leading to intense segregation between schools in Marin and its wealthier neighbor, Sausalito. The 1960s integration was successful — but it didn’t last.

How did this once thriving, integrated school community resegregate? In a February 2020 podcast episode of The United States of Anxiety, new district Superintendent Itoco Garcia referred to hard times in the 90s — when he graduated from neighboring community Mill Valley — when high murder rates and the crack cocaine epidemic left many children with adverse childhood experiences that have had ripple effects throughout the community. The local school was not producing great outcomes for students. In 2001, a charter school, Willow Creek Academy, was created with the goal of attracting a diverse array of students, which happened over the following 18 years. But, Willow Creek thrived at the expense of the district’s traditional school, Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy, which, by the time of the ruling, was left with a little more than 100 students — all of whom were students of color and none of whom had the same resources as the charter school. We’ll come back to the solution and progress Sausalito-Marin City SD has made toward its goal of integration later in the story.

“This desegregation order is a full circle moment for me,” Green said. “I had no control of the course of action as a child, but today I am in a unique position to lead the school community to take corrective actions and be mwore accountable to the greater community, especially the ones who matter most — the children.”
Ida Green, Sausalito-Marin City School District board president
This small district provides a microcosm of the issues contributing to growing segregation in districts across the nation due to historic issues such as redlining, court decisions that have weakened desegregation ever since Brown v. Board of Education, and a lack of support and will to address this widespread issue. Board members can play a pivotal role in addressing segregation in schools by examining their own school demographics, knowing the benefits of integrated schools for all students and communicating that to the community, advocating for policies at the state and federal level to help the work, and examining what internal policies may be used.

Since school integration efforts peaked in the late 1980s, the U.S. has seen increasing segregation in schools across the nation. In California, there has been an increase of about 20 percentage points in the last 20 years in schools with more than 50 percent non-white enrollment. Further, in 2000, about 20 percent of California schools were “intensely segregated” (defined as having less than 10 percent white enrollment); by 2019, the number increased to 40 percent. More than half of the Black students in the state attend intensely segregated schools, and that number is even greater for Latino students.

The more we learn together, the more successful we’ll be
Decades of educational research show the benefits of learning in an integrated setting for all students. In just a few examples, Fahle et al. in 2020 used national student test scores from the last decade and found a strong link between racial school segregation and academic achievement gaps. Studies of the desegregation regulations of the South have found that desegregation had a positive impact on both Black students and white students. A 2014 study of the effects of ending busing in a Virginia school district found that both white and minority students scored lower on high school exams, high school graduation and four-year college attendance decreased for white students, and there were large increases in crime for minority males when assigned to schools with more minority students.

A recent report from the UCLA Civil Rights Project, Black Segregation Matters: School Resegregation and Black Educational Opportunity, took a deep dive through the history of desegregation efforts, resegregation since the Civil Rights era, the benefits of an integrated environment and offered recommendations. Report co-author Danielle Jarvie noted that Black students who attend less integrated schools tended to face harsher discipline, less-challenging curriculum and less-qualified teachers.

“Social science research for decades now has shown that integrated schools benefit all racial and social groups,” Jarvie said. “All students find higher academic achievement, higher graduation rates and are more likely to go to college. When students learn in diverse settings, this fosters multicultural understanding and improved critical-thinking skills. When students learn together, it debunks a lot of stereotypes at a key time in their lives when ideas are setting in about race and ethnicity. These skills are really necessary as we become a more multiracial society. These improvements can also have larger societal benefits because people who have been educated in integrated environments tend to seek these out later in life.”

Integrated schools have the public’s support and the public generally acknowledges the advantages certain districts have. In a 2018 national poll, 75 percent of the respondents said that there were fewer opportunities for students in schools in low-income areas and 55 percent said that expectations were lower there as well. In January 2021, The Century Foundation, a public policy think tank with work focused on racial and socioeconomic integration, conducted a national survey in which 84 percent of respondents said it was somewhat, very, or extremely important that “public schools have a mix of students from different racial/ethnic backgrounds,” and 83 percent said the same for “a mix of students from different economic backgrounds.”

Supreme Court and other federal decisions affecting school integration in the U.S.


Brown v. Board of Education


Between 1955 and 1960, federal judges will hold more than 200 school desegregation hearings.


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is adopted. Title IV of the Act authorizes the federal government to file school desegregation cases. Title VI of the Act prohibits discrimination in programs and activities, including schools, receiving federal financial assistance.


The Supreme Court orders states to dismantle segregated school systems “root and branch.” The Court identifies five factors — facilities, staff, faculty, extracurricular activities and transportation — to be used to gauge a school system’s compliance with the mandate of Brown v. Board of Education. (Green v. County School Board of New Kent County)


The Supreme Court declares the “all deliberate speed” standard is no longer constitutionally permissible and orders the immediate desegregation of Mississippi schools. (Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education)


The Court approves busing as an appropriate remedy to overcome the role of residential segregation in perpetuating racially segregated schools. (Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education)


The Court distinguishes between state-mandated segregation (de jure) and segregation that is the result of private choices (de facto). (Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1) The latter form of segregation, the Court would later clarify, is not unconstitutional.


In a narrow 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court blocks metropolitan-wide desegregation plans as a means to desegregate urban schools with high minority populations, holding that school districts were not obligated to desegregate unless the lines were drawn with racist intent on the part of the districts. (Milliken v. Bradley) As a result, Brown will not have a substantial impact on many racially isolated urban districts. Justice Thurgood Marshall called the ruling a “giant step backwards.”


For the first time, a federal court finds that once a school district meets the Green factors (facilities, staff, faculty, extracurricular activities and transportation), it can be released from its desegregation plan and returned to local control. (Riddick v. School Board of the City of Norfolk, Virginia)


School integration reaches its all-time high; almost 45% of black students in the United States are attending majority-white schools — just a highlight in the timeline.


Emphasizing that court orders are not intended “to operate in perpetuity,” the Supreme Court makes it easier for formerly segregated school systems to fulfill their obligations under desegregation decrees. (Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell) After being released from a court order, the Oklahoma City school system abandons its desegregation efforts and returns to neighborhood schools.


The Supreme Court further speeds the end of desegregation cases, ruling that school systems can fulfill their obligations in an incremental fashion and courts can withdraw judicial supervision over those Green factors in compliance. (Freeman v. Pitts)


In a narrow decision, the Supreme Court finds voluntary school integration plans in Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky unconstitutional, finding that a student assignment plan based on individualized racial classifications is not “narrowly tailored” to the goal of achieving diversity, paving the way for contemporary school segregation to escalate. (Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1)

Jim Crow laws, redlining and court decisions
The end of the Civil War saw the implementation of Black Codes and Jim Crow laws that outlawed integration in public spheres and placed severe restrictions on the movement of African American people and where they could reside. The Federal Housing Administration, established in 1934, furthered segregation when it developed the first underwriting criteria for mortgages. The FHA looked at 239 cities and rated them to indicate lower level of security in each. Neighborhoods outlined in green, typically the newest areas, were designated the most desirable. Neighborhoods outlined in red were considered the riskiest for mortgage support, tended to be older neighborhoods in the center of cities — and predominantly African American.

A recent study, “The Lingering Legacy of Redlining on School Funding, Diversity, and Performance,” ( found that present-day districts and schools located in historically redlined neighborhoods have less district-level per-pupil total revenues, larger shares of Black and non-white student bodies with less diverse student populations, and worse math and reading scores. The study also found a persistent and growing intergenerational inequality between schools and districts in redlined neighborhoods and those with more favorable assessments. “These results indicate the need for educational policymakers to consider the historical implications of past neighborhood inequality on present-day neighborhoods when designing modern education interventions focused on improving life outcomes of the socioeconomically disadvantaged,” the study’s authors conclude.

One way The Century Foundation is working on this issue is through the Bridges Collaborative, which aims to increase the number of students attending diverse, integrated, rigorous and inclusive schools by fostering collaboration among school and housing partners throughout the country, pursuing integration and providing strategic support. The 2020 cohort of the Bridges Collaborative includes 27 school districts — including Oakland USD and Los Angeles USD — 17 charter schools and 13 housing organizations. The goals of the two-year cohort are to learn from one another, build grassroots political support and develop successful strategies for integration.

Housing partners are important to work with to address the issue from more than one avenue, said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. “You have to have your housing partners at the table and one of the great partners to school districts can be housing mobility organizations that are focused on placing low-income families in housing in high-opportunity areas where they will get access to more integrated schools,” Potter explained. “A number of the housing organizations that are part of Bridges Collaborative fall into that category where they’re working directly with families to help them get access, since we know about 70 percent of students in the country attend their neighborhood elementary school. If you’re not thinking about housing, you’re not thinking about the whole picture of school diversity.”

Potter’s research into integration efforts yielding results include districtwide approaches to equitable admissions that combine choice with algorithms that encourage diversity or opening up district enrollment, allowing families to rank their choices and combining that with mechanisms that are designed to make sure that all schools are representative of the diversity of the whole district.

“That’s really important because we have lots of research and examples that show when you have choice on its own, just kind of free market choice, without those priorities thinking about diversity, then you actually tend to get more segregated schools because the access to information flows in different ways,” Potter said.

Berkeley USD, one of the first school districts in the nation to voluntarily integrate, uses an admissions algorithm where the district is broken into microneighborhoods and assigned a score based on the diversity of each neighborhood, including factors such as its share of minorities, parental educational attainment and income status. The algorithm then selects from different microneighborhoods to help achieve the racial balance of the city.

Oakland USD is participating in the Bridges Collaborative as part of its five-year Citywide Plan, created in 2018 to address budget shortfalls, under enrollment and a lack of quality schools in every neighborhood. The plan’s goal is to have fewer but better resourced schools in order to provide more access to high-performing schools and help balance the district’s budget. Trustee Gary Yee recently reviewed the board’s policies on enrollment and realized the word “integration” did not appear anywhere. The board worked to recraft the policy a bit and intentionally use the word integration to align with the district’s vision. District leadership is also working with stakeholders in an equitable enrollment working group, which consists of community members, staff, principals, parents and teachers, to gather input.

Oakland is beginning to pilot some admissions algorithms and messaging to a few targeted school communities where closures are occurring. While Oakland does not yet have a housing partner at the table, it is hoping to begin building those types of partnerships by learning from other districts in the Bridges Collaborative, according to Jonathon Stewart, the district’s registration and enrollment coordinator.

“I think one of the things that the collaborative is really bringing to the forefront is that housing and education policy is so intertwined, especially when you’re talking about integration,” Stewart said. “Because many of the cities in our country, due to redlining and other policies, have segregated housing and that has caused a lot of schools to be segregated — that’s the case in Oakland as well.”

Yee said that pilot programs are an important part of the process. “We know that we’re not going to be able to satisfy everyone, but if we don’t ever have the discussion, we know the predictable effect of just leaving it the way it is,” Yee said. “At first, I wasn’t that fond of the enrollment pilots trying to match up a low-income neighborhood family with a higher-income school so that school is more integrated and those families have access to a better school. I worried about lower enrollment, and a possible closure of that school. But, we know those things are going to be there, but how about if we just get started? This enrollment pilot gives us a way to get real narratives — we can find out what the receiving school is saying and what the family is saying and what kind of impact does that have. So, rather than start with the big policy of, we must have integration at every school, we are staring with some pilots and seeing what happens.”

Moving toward integration
In addition to policy levers such as admissions algorithms and open enrollment, experts say that instituting magnet programs is one of the most effective and most popular ways to create greater diversity in a district that doesn’t fall prey to district lines. However, the federal Magnet Schools Assistance Grant Program, which was founded to support voluntary desegregation and stimulate the creation of excellent diverse schools, has received minimal funding and has not enforced serious diversity efforts in the communities it supports. Strongly supported by the public, it needs focus and resources, according to UCLA’s Jarvie.

During the Obama administration, guidance was released in 2011 that included examples of ways schools could legally pursue voluntary integration and methods that could incorporate race. In 2016, the Education Department proposed a program to assist districts in designing and implementing voluntary integration. That program was cancelled in 2017 by then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who also rescinded the 2011 guidance.  

A significant breakthrough came with the House of Representatives passage, by a substantial bipartisan majority, of the Strength in Diversity Act of 2020, which would offer planning and implementation grants for integration efforts. If enacted by the Senate and substantially funded, this could be a framework encouraging local efforts, such as regional magnet and transfer programs. The expansion of increasingly popular dual-language programs could be another element that helps to desegregate through voluntary action.

Jarvie also suggests that districts evaluate their policies related to diversity and integration goals. “Look at your magnet programs — are they innovative and attracting diverse families?” she asked. “Look at your teachers to see if they are trained to work with diverse populations. Look at the curriculums to see if they are culturally inclusive, and also, just really making sure that integration is happening within the school as well. Even in integrated schools, you can still have segregation.”

Back in Sausalito-Marin City SD, the last couple of years have been spent gathering community input through often-heated Town Hall meetings, a representative desegregation advisory group, and board study sessions – of which the board recently completed the 13th session — with the leadership of Willow Creek Academy. What solution did the district come up with to fulfil the desegregation order?

A one-school model that locates students in kindergarten through fifth grade on the former Willow Creek Academy campus (the school relinquished its charter on June 30, 2021) and students in transitional kindergarten and sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders on the campus of Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy. The board and staff are working at a breakneck pace to ensure students feel welcomed and ready to learn, no matter which campus they previously attended. With three out of five board members brand new, the district also has a chance to build a new vision from the ground up.

In addition to an enhanced curriculum, the district will implement advanced classes for high-performing students and create an integrated English language development program for its schools. Other plans include project-based learning and arts integration across the core subjects. Instructional coaches will provide support for teachers or offer direct intervention for students who are falling behind.

“This has been a big process requiring a lot of time and community input,” said Board President Green. “We are pushing ahead and working hard to ensure that those students who were not receiving the high-quality education they deserve do get that. It’s been contentious but we’ve come a long way.”

Kimberly Sellery is managing editor for California Schools.