Educators prepare to observe anniversary of landmark school desegregation case

by Brian Washington

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Amy Mizialko’s first teaching job was located in an area in Milwaukee ranked as the most impoverished in the state of Wisconsin. And today, more than two decades later, nothing has changed.

“Twenty-two years later, I still feel like I am working for those kids who were in my first class,” said Mizialko, who is trained as a special education teacher for students with learning and behavioral disabilities. “I know their parents, their grandparents–I know their families.”

On Saturday, May 17, Mizialko is going to join with the families from her community in a special unity march to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, which she refers to as “one of the most important court decisions of the 20th century.”

Brown v. Board, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that came down in 1954, outlawed the “separate but equal” ideology that lead to school segregation policies. It also invigorated the civil rights movement’s quest to end the inequality created by Jim Crow laws affecting everything from lunch counters, to buses, to voting rights.

“What we really want to bring to light in Milwaukee is that, arguably, not much has changed in terms of the overt racism that we see in our city regarding life outcomes for families and students,” said Mizialko.

A coalition of progressive groups, including the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA), plans to use the anniversary to deliver some sobering news in a new report entitled, “The Schools and Communities Our Children Deserve.” Some of the report’s findings include the following:

  • The achievement gap between black and white students in Milwaukee is the widest in the nation;
  • Milwaukee ranks as the most segregated city among 102 large metropolitan areas; and
  • The well-being of African-American children is the worst among all 50 states based on 12 key indicators.

Milwaukee is a place that is quite hostile to the majority of the people who reside there, and that, of course, is going to bleed into what education and opportunities look like for kids in our classrooms who come from African-American and Hispanic families.

The public school system in Milwaukee is being ravaged by privatization initiated by misguided politicians, who, instead of serving their constituents, have pledged their support to conservative, right-wing groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC has some of the wealthiest corporations in the world as its members and uses its unlimited resources to shower politicians with lavish gifts, dinners at high-priced restaurants, and expensive travel junkets.

Milwaukee educator Amy Mizialko

In exchange, these politicians do the bidding of ALEC’s wealthy benefactors, who want to make a profit on the backs of students nationwide by draining money away from public education to subsidize tuition costs at religious and private schools.

However, educators know, and studies show, privatization is not the answer. In order for our students to succeed, our public schools need full funding and support, more teaching and less testing, positive discipline policies, and affordable education from early childhood through college for all students, including those who are undocumented.

That’s why educators from across the nation, like Mizialko, will be banding together with parents and community leaders to use the anniversary of Brown v. Board to bring attention to the needs of our public schools and communities. Public programs and marches are taking place in Colorado and Kansas and similar events are being planned in many other locations.

In Washington, D.C., a progressive group called the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools, which represents 7 million parents, educators, and youth, have planned a march on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. The event, which is scheduled for Tuesday, May 13, is co-sponsored by the National Education Association, which represents 3 million educators nationwide. The march is part of a week-long commemoration of the Brown v. Board anniversary involving NEA and its affiliates.

Meanwhile, back in Milwaukee next week, teams of educators, community and elected leaders, and parents will develop a call to action to get the message out about the outcomes they expect and need for students and families, in terms of education, housing, health, and economic opportunities.

Mizialko is hoping the community-planned events to observe Brown v. Board, including the release of the new report, will help the community figure out how to move forward.

“For me, this makes me want to be in Milwaukee even more,” said Mizialko, who is not afraid of the challenges ahead. “It doesn’t make me want to leave. It motivates me and lets me know I need to stay. This is my work.”

Click here to sign the petition to tell ALEC to stop cashing in on our kids.

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