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School CP - December 1975
Time Magazine, New York, 15 December 1975
Since the federal courts began ordering Southern school systems to desegregate 20 years ago, white parents have been setting up their own private -- and segregated -- academies. In the past few years, court-ordered busing has accelerated this trend. Some 3,500 of these schools now operate in the South with a total enrollment of 750,000, or 10% of the region's white school-age children. TIME Correspondent Jack White has been investigating the "segregation academies" and last week visited one of the best of them in Memphis. His report:
Briarcrest Baptist High School, which opened two years ago after the courts ordered busing in the Memphis schools, has just about everything: a lavish $6.5 million building with earphones dangling from the ceiling in language labs, en electric kiln for would-be potters and an enthusiastic and well-educated corps of teachers (40% have master's degrees). Its football team even produced a winning season this fall, despite moving into a tougher league.
This month Briarcrest will win an even more significant victory: it will be fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, important recognition that most institutions receive only after an arduous application process that usually consumes four or five years. What Briarcrest lacks, however, is blacks. All of its 1.432 students and 69 faculty and staff members are white.
Many of the new private schools, like Briarcrest, insist that they have "open" admissions and are segregated only because no blacks have applied. But they conceded that white hostility to desegregation accounts for much of their growth. "We've got parents who are running from problems," says Wayne Allen, a Baptist minister who is chairman of the Briarcrest board of trustees. "Anyone who says different is not telling the truth."
In many areas, as a result, the academies have drastically reduced the number of white students in the public schools. In Jackson, Miss., for example, half of all white pupils attend private schools, including six run by the blatantly segregationist Citizens Council Foundation; in Charlotte, N.C., one-sixth of all white children have moved to private schools. In Memphis, 25,000 whites have fled the public schools for private academies in the past three years, tipping the racial balance from fifty-fifty to 70% black and frustrating court orders for desegregation. "It's impossible to integrate two races when one race disappears," complains Memphis School Superintendent John Freeman.
The rise of private schools also poses a serious threat to public education in the South. By skimming off the children of many middle-class whites, the segregated academies are helping to turn public schools into "pauper systems", with student bodies that are increasingly black and poor. As a result, support for school bond issues, which were once popular in the middle class, is declining.
Private-academy tuition ranges from $200 to $2,000 a year and provides a wide range of educational quality. In rural areas most of the schools are housed in church basements, barns and abandoned warehouses; few have certified teachers. In cities, a handful, such as Briarcrest, have facilities and faculties that are the envy of public school administrators.
Loosening standards. What they all have in common is strict, paddle-wielding discipline (a Briarcrest assistant principal paddles half a dozen students each month) and a "back-to-basics" approach to teaching, often laced with a strong dose of fundamentalist Christianity. Charlotte's Queen City Christian Academy (enrollment: 50) was founded by parents who objected to sex education courses in the public schools. Other Southern parents say they are as upset by a loosening of academic standards and a lack of discipline in the public schools as they are about race. "They are trying to re-create the society they knew before," says David Nevin, research director of the Lamar Society, a civic-minded group of liberal Southerners that is studying the private schools. "A lot of them say that this is the kind of school I went to as a boy."
The future of the private schools is now under a legal cloud, however. The Supreme Court will probably rule next spring on whether private schools can continue to refuse admission to black students because of their race. The Internal Revenue Service in 1970 denied a tax exemption to schools that segregate in their admissions procedures but has not been enforcing that decision vigorously.
Even if the private academies open their doors to blacks, few black families have the money to afford them or the inclination to send their children to schools where they are not wanted. As one 17-year-old student at Briarcrest put it, "I left the public schools to get away from blacks. If they came here, I don't think they would be welcome at all."
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