Statement on the
SLPS Consolidation Proposal
As a community-based history organization of The Ville, home to Sumner High School, we extend this statement with hope that the St. Louis Public School District will take responsibility for its complicated past and consider the damaging implications of their consolidation proposal on the legacy and stability of our North St. Louis neighborhoods.
This powerful statement was made in 1907 by the group The Colored Citizens of St. Louis when advocating for adequate and quality educational facilities at Sumner High School. The tyranny that they spoke against is the St. Louis Public School District’s stubborn legacy of educational disenfranchisement. This legacy has perpetuated for more than a century and now led to the inconceivable proposed closing of the first Black high school west of the Mississippi river. Thankfully, the Black community has an equally stubborn and proud legacy of fighting back. We echo the historic voices of The Colored Citizens of St. Louis and demand that SLPS postpone their consolidation plan.
Nearly 50 years after The Colored Citizens of St. Louis made their prescient statement, Sumner senior – and future civil rights activist – Dick Gregory felt compelled to lead a group to the Board of Education’s front doors to protest SLPS. The group was fighting the blatant disenfranchisement of the black community by deviously underfunding and overcrowding North St. Louis schools.
This disinvestment continued beyond Brown v. Board of Education and a declining white population in the city, peaking with the institution of the Voluntary Interschool Cooperation program in 1980. Despite excess capacity in south city schools, SLPS continued overcrowding and underfunding north city schools until they were forced to wholesale bus out their students to other districts with an empty promise of more equity.
In the 50s
SLPS adopted district boundaries that mimicked restrictive and segregated housing patterns to lock black students into overstressed and redlined neighborhoods.
In the 60s
SLPS introduced ill-equipped portable classrooms and branch schools at overcrowded black schools, including Sumner, while schools in South St. Louis remained under capacity due to the declining population from white flight. SLPS also bussed north city students to south city schools with intact busing. Although the busing addressed the space issue, the students were kept separate from their white classmates, not allowed to make use of additional school facilities, and returned to their home neighborhoods immediately following the school day.
In the 70s
Black parents formed the Concerned Parents of North St. Louis to demand educational equity for their communities. Their efforts led to SLPS being legally declared a “Constitutional Violator” and forced to adopt the VIC program – better known as Deseg.
This brings us to today’s backdrop of the SLPS consolidation plan. Since the start of VIC, SLPS has responded to rapidly declining enrollment by diverting more resources from North St. Louis schools into magnet schools that exist to attract white families from the county. Yet again, the black community is compelled to stand in protest as SLPS reinforces disenfranchisement of North St. Louis schools. This was thoroughly reported in Still Separate, Still Unequal, the community accountability and advocacy tool from Forward Through Ferguson that highlighted these inequities.
The District’s rationale for their new consolidation plan relies on incomplete data analysis focusing on declining enrollment and deteriorating neighborhoods while not acknowledging the impact that another vacant school and lost community anchor will have on our neighborhoods. It places the burden of systemic oppression on the oppressed and demands continued sacrifice from our black and brown children to serve a system that has never served them. It is clear that this decision is just a continuation of the same practices that have plagued North St. Louis for over 113 years.
My name is Julia Allen. I am a product of Sumner High School and I have lived in The Ville neighborhood for 71 years. I attended Turner branch school – now closed and vacant. My incoming class of a bloated Sumner High was over 500 students. I experienced the tyranny of SLPS firsthand. But I benefited from the resilience of a community that flourished around Sumner High School. Had it not been for my teachers and neighbors like Julia Davis and John D. Buckner who stopped me on the street to remind me about the importance of a college education, I would not have pursued a master’s degree at the age of 51. Experiences like this are not exclusive and are what make Sumner foundational to the identity and pride of The Ville. It is one of the institutions that has sustained my community despite the neglect it has received from the City. To this day, I continue to walk the halls of Sumner High, now to educate others about the rich history of my neighborhood through my organization, 4theVille. We maintain a relationship with this school because it is the heart of our community transcending the single function of secondary education.
When SLPS chooses to close schools in North Saint Louis, it is saying to the communities, alumni and students that we are not important. It is saying that our history and legacy do not matter. It is further weakening our neighborhoods by adding vacancy and eliminating education options. SLPS has closed 5 schools in my neighborhood, and each of the buildings have sat vacant for roughly 10 years. Closing Sumner, Farragut and Hickey will only further the deterioration of my historic neighborhood. Strong schools are the backbones of strong communities. If you remove the schools, you eliminate that possibility. While we recognize that the current Board and administration are not the perpetrators of the disingenuous education policies of the past, we still believe they should take responsibility for them. It is time for the Board of Education to come up with more creative solutions for our schools to become successful. Closing more schools in North City is no longer an acceptable excuse for denying children in North St. Louis an equitable education. We are sick and tired of people who do not live in our neighborhoods making decisions about our communities. Do the right thing and develop a comprehensive strategic plan WITH community voice to save the remaining schools in North City.
We should no longer have to pay the cost of failed education policy, for that would be tyranny.
4theVille – Vice Chairperson
written by the 4theVille Board