Background on the busing issue

Opinion: Columns

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Harriet hausman

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If you watched the Democratic candidates debate recently, perhaps you were as impressed as I was. I expected polite banter, all repeating the appropriately correct statements on what they will do when elected, all with Sunday manners. Instead each had special interests and although many shared similar concerns (especially about the environment), each had his/her own solutions.

Kamala Harris directly confronted Joe Biden on the issues of civil rights and school busing. Biden's explanation was inadequate, but I must note that the subject of school busing was a very "hot" issue on many levels here in Chicago and suburbs. I remember it well!

There were two types of school busing: one "in district," the other "out of district." There was little or no objection to local "in district" busing for children living long distances from their own schools, but the thorny questions concerning "out of district" busing was a problem. Civil rights activists were insistent that busing inner-city children (mostly black and Latino) to suburban or better-quality schools would solve the lower school scores and integrate the races. This was supposed to answer all of Chicago's school problems.

I do not know if Biden favored or was against "out of district" busing, and I do not know which of the busing services Ms. Harris used as a child. But she was very positive on the value of busing in her young life.

In contrast to her experience, an overwhelming number of the Chicago black and Latino communities objected to the "out of district" busing. They were informed it would be beneficial for their children to experience integration and enjoy the benefits of better schools. Most of the South- and West-side folks I worked with found the suggestion insulting. 

The question followed, "Why must inner-city kids travel to the suburbs or wealthy city sections to obtain better schools? We would certainly appreciate integration if we had the quality schools and have suburban kids integrate at our schools. They could be the bus riders! As the plan is proposed, it only reinforces discrimination toward our children's false belief that the white race is superior to blacks and browns."

Even though this dispute took place in Chicago, I believe it was just as common elsewhere. There was an additional problem that concerned busing: Who would cover the costs? The board of education paid for local "in district" busing but refused to pay for "out of district" travel. Although most of the state legislators were against paying for school busing, a few agreed with the Board of Ed that schools required money for school needs.

Because of most of the state legislators' attitudes, many in the news media accused them of racial bias. The subject of school busing became "hot" news.

The busing issue was finally resolved, but there are continuing disputes as to how this entire issue should have been approached.

As for the disagreement between Ms. Harris and Mr. Biden, we will soon learn how that will be resolved.

Harriet Hausman is a longtime River Forest resident and longtime member of the ACLU.

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