To the Editor:
Behind the guise of fiscal responsibility, anonymous parties with ulterior motives are suing the DeKalb School District 428 Board in order to compel the board to ferret out and expel nonresident students. I have seen no legitimate numbers that support the idea that nonresident students are placing an additional burden on the citizens of DeKalb, or that a “random” survey of students’ residency will justify the cost of that survey. I have seen ample evidence that this approach to our district’s economic challenges will create fear among our most vulnerable residents and feed the darkest impulses of those who seek to divide us. I call on the District 428 board to resist those impulses.
I know from personal experience that a school board can stand up to divisive elements in its community. Although I have been a DeKalb resident for more than 25 years, four years ago I produced a documentary on the desegregation of schools in my hometown of Denton, Texas. It included the story of Denton’s 1963 school board, which set Denton on a path of inclusiveness by becoming the first school board in Texas to voluntarily desegregate its city’s schools. The unanimous vote came a year before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The board’s action made the national news for what was then a bold decision. The chaos in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the standoff at the University of Alabama were fresh memories. However, the school board’s president recalled that the vote didn’t seem particularly heroic to him at the time. “It was,” he said, “just a case of some prudent people getting together and saying, ‘This is the right thing to do.’ ”
Today, Denton is a diverse and vibrant university town. I have no doubt that its school board’s decision, taken more than 50 years ago, had a positive effect on my hometown’s growth and development.
Likewise, the decisions the DeKalb board makes today will affect the development of our community for decades to come. The fiscal challenges the board faces are real, but they will not be solved by scapegoating our most vulnerable students. To the contrary, blaming perceived “others” for our problems only can delay the competent analysis of why our tax base is shrinking. Working together, we can ensure a future for our community that is both prosperous and just.