March 21, 2008 by multiracialsky
We’re still figuring out our moving plans, still aiming for Ithaca–or at least the Ithaca City School District. We’ve returned to a plan that focuses on self-sufficiency and farming, which is why we’re looking outside of the town of Ithaca, but this revisits the school issue.
One of the reasons we picked Ithaca is because of their schools. There are two high school options, including an alternative democratic-style high school (yes–it’s a tuition-free public school!) that my kids could choose if they’re not really into traditional sports. About a quarter of the kids at both of the high schools are kids of color. Ithaca–and its school district–has significant Black, White, Latino, and Asian populations, and a small Native American population as well.
We’re enjoying homeschooling and the kids seem to be getting a lot out of it, so we’re comfortable thinking about doing it for several more years (i.e. possibly until high school). So if we bought rural property that was in a small-town mostly-White elementary school district–but fed into the 15 minutes away Ithaca City School District for high school–well, that seems like it might work.
We found this piece of property we were interested in, about 20 miles outside of town. It’s not in the Ithaca school district, but I looked it up and found the ‘town’ that houses the local school district (sparsely populated upstate NY ‘towns’ can include sizable portions of an entire county). Fact Finder told me that the town had about 4000 residents, 20% of which were Black and 10% of which were Hispanic. I was beside myself–where had this town been? Was it possible we had missed a pocket of POC just outside Ithaca?
My next stop was the school statistics website, where I found out that the town’s schools are 98% White. Hmm. Something’s going on here.
My partner and I started brainstorming why there could be such a racial discrepancy. Had the school district strategically cut out a corner of the ‘town’ with a high concentration of POC? Was there a military base within the town lines? We researched both those questions. The answers were no, and no. My partner found an aerial photo map of the town and we scanned over it, looking for something that the numbers weren’t telling us. And there it was. Right in the downtown of the single real town within the ‘town’ boundaries.
“That looks like a prison,” I said.
We found a website listing New York state prisons. This prison houses over 1000 inmates, 50% Black, 25% Hispanic, 25% White. The inmates make up a quarter of the ‘town’ population. The prison is the biggest local employer, and the primary contact and knowledge the locals have with POC is felons. I can only imagine what that school would be like for my kids (or any kids of color). I think this might actually be worse than an all-White community and school.
As the statistical discrepency became clear, I remembered something I learned at my Undoing Racism training last fall. Census statistics (which allocate both State and Federal Congressional representation) count population by the physical location of people–including prisoners–which is ironic because 48 states prohibit current inmates from voting.
Just remember to keep your eye on those tricky statistics.