by Mikel Holt
Black parents are not intelligent enough to make informed educational decisions for their children.
That’s apparently the determination of the superintendent of Racine Public Schools, a conclusion that has sent shock waves of anger and cries of prejudice throughout the Racine and Milwaukee communities.
Speaking at an informational hearing at Racine St. Catherine’s School in December, Racine Unified School District Superintendent Ann Laing challenged the intelligence of Black Milwaukee parents who participate in the Milwaukee Parental Choice program. Laing’s comments came during a discussion about the inclusion of St. Catherine in the parental school choice program, which was expanded to Racine last year.
After erroneously asserting that “white families” were the primary beneficiaries of the Milwaukee program,’ Laing went on to say, “African Americans have primarily been the ones who are more prone to enroll their children in fly by night schools that cropped up after vouchers existed…and they don’t know how to make good choices for their children…they really don’t.
“They didn’t have parents who made good choices for them or help them learn how to make good choices. So they don’t know how to do that.”
Although Laing’s statements were made in December, a video of her presentation was only made available last week. The video made its way to Facebook, where it has generated outcries from around the country, primarily from African Americans who are incensed by her comments.
Brother Bob, president of Messmer Catholic Schools in Milwaukee was among those who joined in lambasting Laing’s comments.
The usually mild mannered Brother Smith said he could empathize, if not readily agree with critics who assert Laing’s statement was racist.
“Her comments are offensive and an affront to the citizens who show they care about their children by seeking out options they feel will provide them with opportunities to excel in life,” Brother Bob charged.
Messmer Catholic Schools, which includes three elementary and a highly acclaimed high school serves a primarily minority student population. It was the first sectarian school to join the state’s choice program.
Messmer has among the highest Black graduation rates of any school in Milwaukee, with nearly 90% of its graduates going on to college.
“Anybody who can make the comments (Laing did) is obviously ignorant, or has been living on another planet,” the Capuchin monk asserted.
“The fact that she is the head of the Racine school system should raise flags.”
Brother Bob said he would be eager to meet with Laing to ‘provide her with a history of the choice program as well as to refute her allegations.’
The local chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) was also quick to condemn Laing’s comments.
The executive director of the Milwaukee chapter called the statements ‘shocking, disingenuous and blatantly prejudicial.’
“That a public official would make such inflammatory, prejudicial statements about Black families is nothing short of insulting,” said Naryan Leazer, executive director of McBAEO.
“To generalize about Black parents, to imply they are ignorant –or stupid– is totally unconscionable. She (Laing) paints with a broad bush, making assumptions that falsely characterizes Black people. How can she explain the thousands of concerned, active parents whose involvement has resulted in their children not only graduating from schools in Milwaukee, but obtaining college degrees?
And can we assume these same Black parents she refers to can’t make good decision about sending their children to the Racine Public Schools as well? And if we follow her statements to their logical conclusion, I guess Black parents can’t make good choices about how to raise their children, what they should eat, their religions or their mores and values.
BAEO is the nation’s leading parent advocacy organization. The organization has chapters in a dozen states and recently drew over 500 parents, activists and Black political figures to its annual symposium in Washington, D.C.
BAEO champions educational options and parental empowerment initiatives.
Former Racine Alderman Michael Shields said he too was perturbed by Laing’s comments and would be meeting with a group of Racine Black leaders to discuss the situation. Shields said he talked with a Racine school board member on Tuesday night about the comments.
Shields said from his previous relationship with Laing he was giving her the benefit of the doubt, and assuming she didn’t understand what she was saying, or the negative feedback it would generate. Nonetheless, he is organizing Black leaders to arrange a meeting with the superintendent to seek clarification.