A school integration pioneer says schools are more segregated than ever—here’s why

Most Americans learn that segregation in schools ended with the 1954 court case Brown v. Board of Education and continued to be dismantled throughout the 1960s. But the reality is that racism—and segregation—are still alive and well in the U.S. education system. In a new interview with Teen VogueSylvia Mendez, who pioneered integration in California schools, argued that schools in the U.S. are actually more segregated than ever. Speaking to the site, Mendez said that while schools are now legally integrated, de facto segregation is still an issue. In other words, schools remain divided by race even though no formal laws require it.

According to Teen Vogue, Mendez attended a segregated elementary school in Westminster, California in 1944. After she and her siblings were denied entry to the local “white” school, her parents, Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez, worked with four other families to sue Westminster school district and three districts in Southern California. In 1947, the court ruled that Mexican Americans should be allowed to attend “white” schools—the first ruling against school segregation in the U.S.

Two Southern California schools are named after Mendez’s parents, and she told Teen Vogue that both of these schools currently have “100% Latino” student populations.

The trend of de facto segregation is—sadly—not new. In 2011, Vox reported that 23% of black students in the South attended schools where more than half of students were white. This actually marked a decrease from a high of 44% in 1989. This is partially because in many cases, school attendance zones are drawn based on residential areas, and many residential areas remain segregated due to income inequality between white people and people of color. Additionally, a recent report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that charter schools are even more segregated than regular public schools.

Basically, racial inequality in the United States is worse than many people realize—or perhaps care to admit–and it’s critical that we keep working towards true parity. Because there’s simply no excuse.

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