Features Apr 13, 2016 at 4:00 am

When I was a student in our city's public schools, they were wonderfully diverse. Now I'm a Seattle public school teacher, and they're not. We need to reverse this failure now.

Dave Valeza


Another beneficiary of Seattle Public Schools busing here. I moved to Seattle from an even whiter place (Olympia) in 11th grade. I wanted to go to Garfield because of the music program, and attending a diverse high school was probably the single most formative experience of this white girl's adolescence. If I hadn't gone to an integrated school in a historically black neighborhood, I probably wouldn't know what it feels like to be the only person of your race on a bus, or in a store, or in a restaurant. I wouldn't have gone to class with a guy who lived a in waterfront mansion and a guy who lived in a van. I wouldn't have seen how the local cops always seemed to find a reason to hassle the black kids but left the white and Asian kids alone. I'm a better person for it.
I too am a beneficiary of the busing program in Seattle. As a student in the 80's and 90's I attended schools like Van Asselt, Sacajawea, McGilvra, and in junior high Eckstein and high school at Garfield. I met so many different kids from all different walks of life. I had friends from all over the world. My best friends were descended from India, Mexico and more. As a child of mixed colour I never felt isolated as a person of colour in my classes or in my school. And the notion of the world being a cultural mosaic was easily engrained in my conscious and being. Ultimately integration allowed me to feel comfortable with people of all races. I had lots of varied friends that today I am still in contact with. Had there not been integration, I would never have had the same experiences or opportunities. As a poor child of the Black Community busing providing me with meeting individuals that came from elite backgrounds as well as poor kids like me. The opportunity provided me to see what else the world had to offer outside of the Black Community, and everyday as we drove past the many different neighbourhoods and districts I got to see more of what Seattle had to offer. I am definitely a better person for my experiences as a youngster and I hope that Seattle will take up its own programming again and reintegrate to create opportunities for students of all races.
As a public education blogger, I found this an interesting article (with good history that even I didn't know.) But to the time and place we are now in.

Everyone knew that as the assignment plan changed, so would the make-up of schools. Many of us pointed this out especially high school students. But we also had parents who wanted their child to be in their neighborhood to be able to walk/bike to school (and this is something the Mayor's office supports.)

But in the entire article there is not one mention of the real driver (so to speak) of transportation and that is cost. Our district spends more on transportation than surrounding districts (and that's with most kids at their neighborhood schools.) It's always been a bit of a mystery why but one reason is because Seattle is the biggest district and does serve many Special Education students who have private or smaller bus-sized transportation. That costs dollars.

When you are a district - like every other district in our state - that is not fully-funded by McCleary, you make hard choices. And so the district has chosen money over diversity.

However, I think cross-district working together on projects is a great idea and, of course, with technology is something that can happen.

I also note the district is working on a special program - that is being created with the African-American community - around cultural competency.

But the district has the power to control the boundaries and NOT create more segregation and yet, they are doing it as we speak. They are reopening a school in the far NE called Cedar Park that will end up hugely as kids of color/free/reduced lunch. The current schools that serve these students - Olympic Hills and John Rogers - do NOT want these kids to leave their schools for the precise reasons Mr. Riley points out. To add insult to injury, the Cedar Park kids get a crummy old building with probably the smallest library in the district plus about 6 portables while Olympic Hills will get a brand-new shiny building for mostly white kids. It's just appalling but so far, staff doesn't seem to get it.

"The sudden flurry to efficiently help poor kids resulted not in a radical reinvention of schooling, but a ratcheting up of tasks and stress. "

When I read that sentence, the first phrase that came to mind? Charter schools. Want to see segregation? Look at the divide in many charter schools and who they serve.

American racism is an interlocking, reinforced structure of systems, practices and history that serves to maintain segregation unless tremendous effort and resources are put in place to counteract it.
Thank you. I grew up on Queen Anne and was bused to South End schools my entire career - Whitworth Elementary, Southshore Middle, and Franklin High -- from 1977 through 1990.

I cannot agree with you more strongly. I loved bussing. I loved the bus. I loved the schools. I loved my experience. I loved being a part of a city that wasn't all the same. I loved learning with and from people from different perspectives and it has informed my choices throughout later life.

I teach in a comprehensive High School in South Los Angeles now, where our students are 70% Latino, 30% Black, and 100% poor. A very few of my students have seen life outside of Watts for any length of time and even fewer have truly interacted with those with different experiences (I've had multiple students tell me wistfully that they've always wanted a white friend).

I live in one of the few racially and economically diverse areas of Los Angeles (though gentrification is taking its inexorable toll), and am blown away by those I meet who think that, somehow they are better off living in "safe" areas where they are able to not be afraid. I wonder why they feel like that and then I remember: In Seattle, in the 1970's and 1980's, integration worked and we had a small generation that was raised without fear of the other.

What a sad loss.
This is a really excellent article, thanks for it.

The real answer to this is, of course, making our neighborhoods more economically and racially diverse by allowing a wider variety of housing options (both publicly subsidized and market-rate), rather than making our children do the hard work in pursuit of egalitarian ideals that we love to espouse until they actually require personal sacrifice.

"Sorry Timmy, you have to spend two hours on the bus everyday so you can experience diversity because your father and I joined the local neighborhood council and fought every effort to allow anything but million-dollar single family homes in our urban neighborhood."
I half agree with @6. Busing is an incomplete solution, but sure beats no solution. I'm a broken record on this issue, but drop our restrictive zoning laws (that have racist roots) and let more people into this city from the suburbs.
Great article, and I am pleased and amazed that the comment section has not a single trollish asshole yet! (knock wood)

The point made that school segregation affects housing segregation is interesting and important. Current housing prices have a big premium/penalty for "quality schools", "whiteness", however you call it. I'm sure somebody's estimated it but it has to be $50K easy.

Integrating the schools tomorrow would send a ton of property value southward. Capital-holders will resist this transfer intensely, if I may channel Charles Mudede. I have no idea how to get that to go through.
"In 1965, there were roughly 80,000 white kids in Seattle Public Schools; in 1975, there were 50,000; by 1985, there were 25,000. "

Just to note, Seattle Schools has been growing by about 1,000 kids a year over each of the last four year (although this year it was more like 700.) The district is nearly 53,000 students today.
As do many articles in the Stranger, this one bemoans the erosion of "progressive values" but widely misses the mark on a realistic and pragmatic solution. The reality is that education is a market - we may wish it was a common good, but it really isn't. Parents can choose from a number of options including private school, moving the the suburbs, putting pressure on SPS to limit things like bussing and fix demarcation guidelines.

The data shows that while a large number of parents are choosing the multi-cultural experiences in SPS, a very large number are opting out altogether. The opt out rate of city residents is +/-30%. Adding flight to the suburbs on top of that and you may reach almost a majority of potential customers who would rather pay (in the case of private school $15K-$30K per year) than take what SPS is offering for free.

If you accept the fact that it is a market, you will understand that not many institutions can survive when customers are willing to pay significant sums out of pocket rather than use your free service.

The exodus of the wealthy from the public system also drains it of financial resources, involved parents and political support for a reasonable funding level. Why vote to increase your taxes when you are paying for private school tuition.

Given those constraints, is there anyone who really believes that forced bussing will alleviate this? What is certain to happen is more exodus from the public schools and the further development of two systems. One public, starved of resource. One private, extremely well funded.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for highlighting segregation in Seattle schools and its relationship to shrinking diversity in the city in general. Wish my kids attended more diverse schools here! Excellent article- glad to see some real reporting and commentary on local issues again in The Stranger.
Adding "bemoan" to my index of words/phrases that indicate "writer hopped up on own sense of intellectual superiority, will just wait for their chance to talk instead of listening, severely limited value."
Guilty Party Here: In the eighties, unwilling to risk bussing our kindergartner across the city from our mostly white ethnics blue collar (and therefore bereft of the political power that exempted wealthier parts of the city from bussing) neighborhood with three really nice nearby elementary schools, we opted out and enrolled her in a private school in the neighborhood. I do not believe this was racially motivated. By high school, she was traveling across the city to school, which was perfectly fine. I think that for grade school attending a neighborhood school is highly desirable, and bussing for integration is highly destructive to the public school system. Being a good knee-jerk liberal type, I am all for social engineering experiments. however, let's inflict the experiments on adults, not 6 year olds. If we want integrated neighborhood schools, let's integrate the neighborhoods ethnically and economically. This can be done. We latch on to the public school system for our social engineering experiments at a very high cost to the school system and the students in the long term.
Thank you. And of course, we should have-- and still could-- make neighborhoods and neighborhood schools more economically and ethnically diverse by controlling rents and establishing affordable housing. It would mean standing up to some big money interests. But that would be real integration.
Growing up in Ballard in the late 80's and getting bussed to Cleveland High School in South Seattle was an amazing waste of time for our entire family and was really hard on my single mother trying to raise two children by herself. I did not know one family at the time that liked being bussed to another part of the city. I was really shocked to see the comments so in favor of bussing.
I had friends that were African American, Hindu, Asian, right there in Ballard. I was separated from these childhood friends who got to go to Ballard High School, just down the street. Riding on a bus just so I could sit on a bus with other white students? Absolutely ridiculous.
Wasting two hours a day waiting for busses and sitting on roads breathing in exhaust fumes is just not something I think should be dealt with for families who don't want to deal with it.
If we want to integrate then lets do it by creating neighborhoods which can promote that type of diversity.
I just had a conversation again recently with friends and family and we heartily laughed at how utterly ridiculous it was to waste so much time sitting on a bus, and how difficult it made our lives at time.
Then the laughing even got more intense as we remembered that we had all kids of races right there in Ballard, whom I grew up with, that we no longer got to see on a regular basis.

So here is a big no vote for bussing people around the city in the name of diversity.

Perhaps I'd be in favor of this bussing POV if SPS would stick with the current school start time of 8:40. It was probably like that for you author, if you got to leave home at 7:30. Are you aware that SPS has a new start time for many elementary and middle schools for next year at 7:40-7:55?

If you're riding the bus cross town, that means you leave home at 6:45 and have to wake up at 6:00! Maybe that schedule works out for some families, and their 6year olds, but not for mine. My kid sleeps 10-12hours a night consistently and getting her to bed by 6pm is unreasonable.

I am not looking forward to bumping up school time next year to one hour earlier. I cannot imagine what adding a 1hour bus ride on top of it would contribute to a decent nights sleep and a young one's ability to learn.
To Guyinjeep16, thank you for talking some left out truth about the matter. I went to school at Ingraham and had friends and teammates of all types while there. We liked each other and performed well. Our school was usually peaceful with no gangs and no graffiti. That changed rapidly when forced bussing was implemented. Ingraham became known as the "gang school." The kids had no sense of ownership of the school. Ironically, it was only a few years later I drove an SPS bus to earn a living. The kids and I got along together well, which was no small feat. I felt compassion for them for having to get up at 5am to go to school; many were just dog tired.
@16, thanks for pointing out that little fact that seems to be missed by Seattle. The only way I favor bussing is if the travel time kids spend on busses is no more than it would be if they attended a school near their own home. We don't need to penalize children for the piss poor planning of the adults.
I certainly hope all these commenters that "bemoan" doing vast social experiments with our children rather than our neighborhoods will get engaged in the HALA process, which takes some (small, modest) steps towards more inclusive and diverse neighborhoods in Seattle in the future, but is opposed by some well-organized wealthy homeowners that enjoy the status quo.
@21: I am a "bemoaner" of vast social experiments using our children. (see #14). I have been following the HALA process, but am not wildly optimistic that it will make significant changes in neighborhood diversity. Fascinating projects such as the High Point redevelopment and the Yeller Terrace redevelopment do demonstrate promising models for this goal, but they are loudly "bemoaned" (I like that word) by advocates for low income housing. Seattle is an interesting place. Also, I would like to note that this reply thread is almost completely comprised of thoughtful and sincere comments, and has avoided descending into rude insults.
Well done, commenters.
While I'm no fan of segregation, I have to wonder -- what did having school an hour away from home do to parent engagement in the school community?

Wealthier parents on flexible salaried schedules, sure, we can take time off to drive to school when there's something going on, but what about parents who work hourly, or depend on transit themselves -- is it really good for their child's education to add two hours to every parent round trip to school?

It seems to me that integrating schools without integrating neighborhoods is a surefire way to disenfranchise lower-income parents, unless you somehow manage to only bus the children of upper-income families.
I lived in Seattle for 20 years, spent a few years in Berkeley, and recently returned. I was extremely impressed with the way Berkeley integrated its schools. The city was divided into zones that were relatively close to one's home, parents could list their top three choices for elementary schools (middle schools were one per zone and there is only one high school), and the entire system was calibrated to ensure a fairly balanced socioeconomic and racial make-up at every school. Of course, you can drive from one end of Berkeley to the other in about 20 minutes. I suspect the same is true of Champaign, Louisville, and Cumberland.

In contrast, Seattle is extremely spread out, and its geography makes a straight-shot commute quite difficult. Traffic is undeniably terrible, parents are working long hours, and - perhaps most importantly - before and after-school care on location at elementary schools is being axed to make space for pre-K programs. How can we better integrate schools without adversely affecting our families' quality of life? How can we achieve more diversity while allowing parents to invest time and energy in their own neighborhood communities?

One solution could be for Seattle Public Schools to get its act together in supporting advanced learning at EVERY SCHOOL. Time after time, families who can afford to end up pulling their kids from SPS and heading to private schools, or fleeing their neighborhood schools for the very few public schools with dedicated programs to support advanced learners. There has to be a way to set the bar higher at our schools. The focus has been so relentlessly set on "closing the achievement gap" that there is little room for kids who need more. And there are MANY brown and black kids who need more.

We are a pretty awesome city, with an extremely educated population. We have some of the highest literacy rates in the country here. There is money everywhere you look. I think it's time for us to experience an equally awesome public school system. For every student, at every school. High quality schools will pull the private school kids back and cause those who have the money and time to invest in their neighborhood schools, thus serving ALL students more effectively. Just a thought.
Thank you so much Sean for continuing to bring attention to this issue. The storied history of Seattle's school assignment policy has had significant implications locally and across the nation and is important for the community to know. WA remains one of the few states where the achievement gap is actually widening. With concentrations of poverty in Seattle schools ranging from as low as 2% to as high as 93%, one can only predict disparities will continue to widen with the city's rate of growth and compounded housing affordability.

It is urgent that we intercede and recalibrate the trajectory for our students, all of our students.

In response to Cap Hill parent, education is a public good. Participation in education as a market economy is a luxury only available to a privileged subset and by no means an argument to abandon our public education system. It is also worth noting strategies to improve diversity in schools need not be forced top down. In fact the Stronger Together initiative focuses on ground up solutions designed inclusively within communities.
In response to Mtn. Beaver regarding depreciating property values, despite your concern cities that have implemented integrated policies have not observed declines in property values as evidenced in LaCrosse, WI and Cambridge, MA, which are both decades into implementation.
Finally, in response to Pencil Man, while I share your wish that more adults would lead this effort, the reality is that most are not. And it is not surprising, if people grow up surrounded by those like them they'll likely yearn toward similar adult environments. If we want to see diverse neighborhoods, I believe we do start with our youth so that students grow up together, learning from one another, reducing the bias that guides adult choices in the first place. As Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote "Unless our children begin to learn together, then there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together."
"The exodus of the wealthy from the public system also drains it of financial resources, involved parents and political support for a reasonable funding level. "

The "wealthy" may be leaving but as for financial resources, PTAs in Seattle Schools contribution over $3M a year in grant money which puts them ahead of other grant resources.

The wealthy may be leaving but Roosevelt and Garfield continue to have top-ranked jazz bands, not because of support from SPS but because of parents who, year after year, pour time and resources into that effort. Ditto from parents at the elementary dual language schools.

And, as a public education blogger, I can tell you the district would disagree with there being a lack of involved parents. I think they wish parents weren't so involved.

Lastly, public school parents HAVE let their wishes be known - and loudly - in Olympia and to their legislators on school funding.

The "wealthy" have no corner on getting things done for their schools.
First, "of color" means "African-American"in this essay. In the first paragraph, you name white, black, and Vietnamese. Page three "Latino" is mentioned but the context is "elite law schools," obviously not the "median" white, black, or Latino student in the Seattle metro area. Three paragraphs down when naming local notable people, you mention Hari Sreenivasan, a person with ancestory in the Indian sub-continent? No Chinese, Japanese, Korean . . . notable people in the Seattle metro area?

The largest ethnic group in Seattle are Asians, followed by (mostly white) Hispanics. African-Americans are a weak third. in the Pacific NW, East Asian-Americans have a higher median income, over-represented in the professions, and are better educated than white people.

The illustrations chart the populations of cities south of Seattle (intentionally ignore Bellevue/Redmond, and cities in the north) against percentages of "students of color" and poverty rate. Could the decreasing poverty rate in Seattle be caused by our hard-working Asians and not our "median" white people?

What does the interjection of "special needs" children have to do with the story? Which "race" caused the increase?

And, for the record, it was African-Americans who trashed the Rainier Valley after "white flight" and our Vietnam War refugees who reclaimed The Valley for civilized people, making it safe for white people to return and vote tax money to clean up the trash.

I started working in South Seattle and downtown about the time you started grade school, during your public school experience, and through maybe 10 years after you graduated from college.

Sean, I loved your article. I grew up on the south side of Chicago and have lived in Issaquah for the better part of 25 years. I firmly believe in integrated schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods. That brings richness and learning into our lives. When my son was heading toward high school and applied and was accepted into Highline School District's Aviation H,S., I just couldn't stand the thought of him on a bus for 3-4 hours each day (instead I did the work commute) and moved to the Sea-Tac area. We both loved the diversity and I really loved the fact that students at his school came there from not just Seattle area, but from foreign countries. Each year we had kids who were either exchange students or entire families moved here from Asia, Australia, Africa, and Europe. I hope Seattle area school administrators
keep that in mind, but as was the case at RAHS, our students and families were responsible for getting kids to school. We only had a couple bus routes in the Highline district and the rides were short. Lots of kids spent hours each day on the bus, mine didn't. I mentored a lot of students who had long commutes, but they told me they used bus time for homework and for socializing with many other students who were on the same metro lines,
The "Bussing" program for "desegregation" could only create its' opposite..the "anti-bussing Racist Gang" movement which historically is the method by which Fascism is groomed and developed...to the full militaristic state. This is what happened in Boston ..of which the fascist section of the elite used as a "blueprint" for Seattle. The organization CiVIC (Citizens for Voluntary Integration Committee) was just that "model" replication and in order to "nip this fascist organizing in the Bud", this organization had to be physically confronted. This is the primary issue in the history of the so-called Bussing/Anti-Bussing organizing by the the different sections of the financial capitalist elite collaborating with each other.

The only organizational force in Seattle at that time that could fully analyze precisely how motion,development and change historically occurs..under Capitalism is/was the Scientific Socialists based on the exact principles of Marxism (Dialectic and Historic Materialism). At that time the confrontation that in fact "nipped in the bud" the racist gang foundation by means of Action was also carried out by the leading Marxist organization known as the Marxist-Leninist Party. To their Historical .credit ..the "Racist Anti-Bussing Movement" never showed its Head again in Seattle.
Everything in life have costs and require that we look at the full costs-benefits analysis of every option. There's no.free.rides. in anything, even if it's hidden costs or opportunity costs, they are there.

I too was bused south of the Ship Canal while living within a mile of the neighborhood schools; and I firmly believe that Seattle would be a very different place today if our generation didn't go through busing and got to know, and be friends with people of different races and different circumstances. As exhibit A, recall how Washington was the ONLY state in the Union that Mr 700 Club, Moral Majority, Let-the-gayz-die-in-pain-and-hopelessness Pat Roberson won in the 80's!!!

Consider which is the lesser evil, getting up 30 -45 minutes earlier to ride the bus across town, or having President Cruz, Vice President Santorum, Speaker of the House Huckabee, FBI Director Joe Arpaio, Attorney General David Duke, Senate Majority Leader Trump?

My friends and I liked the bus rides, in the morning we slept, on the way home we talked and laughed and played cards - luxuries we didn't have time for during school hours and at sports practice and competitions. We got to know each other well, formed real and lasting friendships till this day. I'm very thankful I was bused, and worry a great deal about what Seattle will be like in 10-15 years - already we have the recurrence of creeps trolling Cap Hill to beat up LGBT people. North end schools are 95+ percent white, South end schools 95+ percent minorities. Anyone looked at Ballard, Roosevelt, Cleveland and Rainier Beach sport teams lately? It's appalling that Lakeside is more diverse than Roosevelt Ballard etc. (not for Lakeside obvs).

I was bussed from third grade to ninth grade, but only because they closed our elementary school (it had been built in 1888 and didn't have any fire escapes or something), and then some kids burned the Junior High down. There was no racial integration element to this - the town was overwhelmingly white, and we were all pretty much from the same background (Northern European, like most of Iowa).

I hated the bus. Absolutely hated it. The bus drivers were sadists who hated children, (I can't blame them, for we were mean little bastards). The politics of who sat where was stupid in the way that only bitchy children can make something stupid. It was the Lord of the Flies territory, and I really missed our old neighborhood school. If we had stayed there - provided there was no fire - the bullies would have been dispersed. On a bus, they were right there with you.

Great article, and yay ethical-values-based social engineering! As my 2-year old says: "Eye Yike Dat!" And I guess I wonder how 'we', those suffering the ill-effects of the rampant money-n-greed-driven social engineering currently underway, make our case for building economically-n-therefore-racially more diverse neighborhoods and schools to the city council and to the oodles of happy-go-lucky, system-vaunting dipsh*ts pouring in and pricing us out of our homes n apartments, and our favorite bars n eateries, and dispersing our friends, and breaking up our neighborhood connections, and making our lives more stressful, and uncertain, and precarious, and unhappy, and making some of our friends and neighbors feel desperate and scared and hopeless? Tho: I'm not sure what to want--inclusion, as I think this article calls for, vs. demanding equality on my/our own terms apart... I don't want my "diverse" kid being bussed back into lord bezos's suburban mall-like Seattle to play the role of zestily-different Other spicing up rich brats' smorgasbord of life, or serving as Eritrea at their diversity-training United Nations, or being leveraged in their college applications as their edifying (brief) encounter with difference. But neither do I want him cut out of the opportunities those kids have either, or cowed in with others of his caste and told the Good Things are just for those who won the birth lottery and went on to have their Hard Work pay exponentially more than my, and so many others' equally Hard Work has.
I don't disagree that my white daughter, in fact a student of author Riley's, misses out on cross-cultural communication opportunities by attending a largely white school in a largely white, middle-class neighborhood. (This is the same school whose PTA offered a "White Trash Tea Party" for the 2013 school auction - the Blaine PTA saw nothing racist/classist and didn't cancel the offering until the Stranger reported on the issue. Ignorant privilege is rampant in Magnolia.) But I'm so grateful that my daughter's NOT bussed. I was, in the 1970s in Lynchburg, VA, for more than two hours daily - under district desegregation requirements, I wasn't allowed to attend my already-too-white neighborhood school. Forty years later, my daughter walks four blocks to her school and thus has 2-3 hours per day available for extracurricular education. Bussed kids like I was can't enjoy after-school playdates with classmates, violin lessons, or daily swim team practice. They are perhaps gaining cultural empathy (while gabbing, napping or being bullied; I remember endlessly reading), but at high cost to family time and their nonacademic interests. I guess like many liberal Seattleites, I favor diversity, but not with a price of my taxes or time.
Getting bused from 1979-1982, was one of the worst experiences of my life. I was shifted from a relatively safe, academically rigorous environment that I thrived in, to one in which priority 1 was to survive. It left me with PTSD I have to this day. I am grateful to the adults who recognized I was spiraling down, and helped me get out of a war zone and into a school that worked better for me.

I am happy for those of you who feel they benefited from busing. What I think we need to look hard at, is criteria and data that help measure success.

I can only say that for many of us, it makes no sense to be prevented from attending a school you can see from your house, that your brothers and sisters, friends and relatives attended, that is a very large part of the fabric that makes up your community and self-identity and have someone say, no, you can't go there.
Already posted something similar in Eli's follow up piece, but this while post leaves a bad taste in my mouth. How about an honest look at what was actually a very complicated Garfield which in truth was a segregated school? I was there with you. How many black kids were in your AP classes? 2 out of 30? How many in the regular classes? 70%? 80%? Diversity is not bussing an hour a day so you can be on a separate elite track. At least give the complete, if uncomfortable, story instead of glorifying an integration charade.

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