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Desegregation plan did not come easy
Davenport North High School junior Jessica Noles, left, and sophomore Willie McNeal work on a lab project dealing with particle motion in a wave during class Wednesday. (Kevin E. Schmidt/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

Davenport’s desegregation plan stems from a drawn out standoff in the 1970s between the district and the then-Iowa Department of Public Instruction, which resulted in a federal investigation.

In 1971, the state provided a report to the district that showed minority children had “unequal” opportunities in schools when compared with their white counterparts. School board members were urged by the state to correct the racial imbalance at schools in the inner city, which enrolled a growing number of minority students and were becoming increasingly segregated.

State officials offered the district options to desegregate the schools that included busing white students to inner city schools and turning Lincoln and Jefferson elementary schools into magnet programs, among other things.

Days later, the board voted to reject the report and, instead, created its own committee to study the issue and propose solutions.

“The state was pushing us to have a desegregation plan,” said Betty Dexter, who served on the board from 1975 to 1985. “But we felt children should go to school as close to home as possible.”

School board members approved an open enrollment policy three years later that allowed any student to transfer to another school in the district, as long as they provided their own transportation. The effect on a school’s racial makeup was not a factor. The state applied more pressure to the district, saying its efforts “fell far short.”

At the time, three schools exceeded the state’s guidelines, which said minorities could not exceed 30 percent of a school’s total population in Davenport. Those included Lincoln (63 percent), Jefferson (39 percent) and Hoover Elementary (32 percent).

In 1975, the state threatened the district with a federal investigation by the then-U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare for its inaction, saying leaders had six months to develop a desegregation plan.

Soon after, the school board members changed their open enrollment policy to provide free transportation to black students transferring out of Lincoln, Hoover and Jefferson and white children who wanted to transfer into them. The board, however, refused to take further steps to end segregation and once again voted to ignore the state’s warnings.

“It became nasty,” Dexter said. “I was not prejudiced. Usually, the people that were pushing it were not the minorities. It was the do-gooders who thought it was a good idea. They weren’t worried about the little black boy.”

The clock ran out for Davenport later that year when the state filed a complaint with the federal government, leading the U.S. Department of Justice to request an FBI investigation to see if the district was violating the Civil Rights Act.

About three months later, the school board adopted a desegregation plan that would bring all schools into compliance with state guidelines within three years. It called for allowing transfers only if they reduced minority enrollment at a school, developing boundary changes that would ease crowding in classrooms and maintain minority populations at schools, hiring more minority teachers and creating a citizen’s committee to assist the district in its efforts.

State education officials initially deemed the plan sufficient. The board followed through on a number of its efforts but decided to rescind the boundary changes in the face of bitter protest in the community. That was followed by a vote in 1977 to stop all work on the desegregation plan because of a split on the board that members said made it impossible to move forward.

“There was no overt discrimination going on,” said John Sinning, who served on the board at the time. “The board was unanimous in wanting to keep neighborhood schools. But there was a division about how to resolve the racial segregation that occurred by natural means in the schools.”

The board’s action prompted the state education department to defer the case to the then-U.S. Commissioner of Education, the Iowa Attorney General and the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

Later that year, as a federal investigation was going on, the school board voted to convert Lincoln into a fundamental magnet school. The move would improve, but not end, racial isolation, board members said at the time.

The federal government wrapped up its investigation in 1978 and sided with Davenport. Officials said the district did not intentionally segregate its black students. However, the federal government found some inequities in programs for minority children and told the district to correct it.

“We said, ‘Let them come in,’ ” Dexter said. “But they never did. If the feds wanted to come in and force busing and desegregation on us, that was fine. But I wasn’t going to do that to my community.”

Sheena Dooley can be contacted at (563) 383-2363 or sdooley@qctimes.com.


A historical look at minority enrollment in Davenport schools

* Central High School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 11 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 37 percent

* West High School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 2 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 23 percent

* North High School

Percent of minority students in 1971: N/A

Percent of minority students this school year: 37 percent

* Wood Intermediate School

Percent of minority students in 1971: N/A

Percent of minority students this school year: 35 percent

*  Smart Intermediate School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 5 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 31 percent

* Sudlow Intermediate School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 12 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 39 percent

* Walcott Intermediate School

Percent of minority students in 1971: N/A

Percent of minority students this school year: 8 percent

* Williams Intermediate School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 3 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 41 percent

* J.B. Young Intermediate School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 15 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 61 percent

* Adams Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 0.5 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 24 percent

* Blue Grass Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: zero percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 7 percent

* Buchanan Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 9 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 59 percent

* Buffalo Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 2 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 9 percent

* Eisenhower Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 2 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 32 percent

* Fillmore Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 1 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 47 percent

* Garfield Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 3 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 30 percent

* Grant Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 2 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: N/A

* Harrison Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 2 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 26 percent

* Hayes Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 1 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 26 percent

* Jackson Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 2 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 27 percent

* Jefferson Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 36 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 78 percent

* Johnson Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 3 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: N/A

* Lincoln Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 61 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 67 percent

* Madison Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 11 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 56 percent

* McKinley Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 5 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 46 percent

* Monroe Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 3 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 46 percent

* Perry Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 3 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: N/A

* Truman Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 11 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 37 percent

* Roosevelt Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 3 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: N/A

* Taylor Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 24 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: N/A

* Walcott Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 1 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 9 percent

* Washington Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 20 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 55 percent

* Wilson Elementary School

Percent of minority students in 1971: 2 percent

Percent of minority students this school year: 29 percent

Source: Quad-City Times archives and the Iowa Department of Education


How the Supreme Court ruling affects other Quad-City districts

The U.S. Supreme Court said in its decision last June that schools could no longer use race as the deciding factor in determining where students attend school. It deemed invalid desegregation plans in districts across the nation.

In the Iowa Quad-Cities, the Davenport School District was the only district to be affected because it had a desegregation plan in place at the time. Officials used the plan to limit open enrollment requests out of the district based solely on a student’s race. It served as a way for the district to combat “white flight” and maintain racial integration in schools.

Earlier this year, the Iowa Department of Education changed its administrative code to comply with the ruling by saying that only districts with desegregation plans could replace them with new diversity plans that did not use race as a determining factor for student placement. The change affected five Iowa districts: Davenport, Des Moines, Postville, Waterloo and West Liberty.

In the Illinois Quad-Cities, the ruling affected only the Rock Island-Milan School District. Although the district does not have a desegregation plan, it uses race as a determining factor in deciding which students are allowed to attend Horace Mann Choice School. Leaders are in the midst of a restructuring plan, under which Horace Mann will close most likely at the end of the 2008-09 school year. A new math and science magnet school at the former Villa de Chantal site, 2101 16th Ave., will replace the school.

Rick Loy, Rock Island superintendent, said district leaders will decide this fall how to create a school that reflects the district’s overall racial makeup without using race as the deciding factor in who is allowed to attend it.

Factors in districts’ diversity plans

The Iowa Department of Education allowed only the five Iowa districts that have desegregation plans to develop diversity plans that did not use race as a determining factor in where students attend school. All of those districts have adopted diversity plans, and the state has approved them. Here is a look at the districts and the factors they used in their new plans:

Davenport School District: Family income and academic performance on state tests.

Des Moines School District: Family income

Waterloo School District: Family income

Postville School District: English language learners.

West Liberty School District: English language learners.

Source: Iowa Department of Education

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