Black students in racially segregated schools more likely to have alcohol and behavior problems

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Black students who attend racially segregated schools are more likely to drink alcohol and have other behavioral problems than their peers, according to a new study from UCSF.

The results offer some of the first evidence that the de facto segregation in schools, largely tied to neighborhood demographics, which is common in the Bay Area, leads to significant health and other problems for black students. and especially black girls.

“What surprises people is that school segregation is not a thing of the past,” said Dr. Rita Hamad, social epidemiologist at UCSF and lead author of the study. “I think that’s a matter of public health policy and education that we need to pay attention to now.”

The research, published this week in the journal Pediatrics, examined data on 1,248 black school-aged children across the country from 1991 to 2014, who attended school in a district that in 1991 had made the subject to court-ordered desegregation. They compared student health information with the level of segregation in their school districts.

The more segregated schools were in a given school district, the more likely black children were to have behavioral problems or use alcohol, the researchers found. They linked the inequity in part to issues such as higher teacher turnover, comparatively lower funding, and other factors affecting segregated schools.

The study only looked at segregation between white and black students, given national desegregation policies that focus on both races. But the researchers said school segregation likely had an impact on other races and ethnicities.

“I would fear we would see similar effects,” Hamad said.

The study was able to use decades of data from districts previously under federal desegregation mandates, which allowed researchers to isolate the impact of school segregation from other factors such as poverty or neighborhood characteristics.

Across the Bay Area, tens of thousands of students currently attend segregated schools, many of whom are disproportionately black.

In San Francisco, for example, Carver Elementary is over 50% black, and no white students are enrolled this year. Malcolm X Academy and Drew Elementary are also half black, while the district’s total enrollment of 49,000 students is 7% African American.

All three schools are on the southeast side of town, which has historically been home to more low-income and black residents than other neighborhoods.

“We know that black families tend to live in lower value homes due to redlining and past racist practices,” Hamad said. “By definition, you have black kids today going to underfunded schools because of this cumulative racism that’s been going on for decades.”

In Oakland, 11 schools are over 45% black, a grossly disproportionate share, including McClymond’s High, where enrollment is 76% black.

The UCSF researchers also questioned whether racially isolated environments could actually benefit students, reducing exposure to everyday interpersonal racism from white peers or teachers. But the data showed that the harms of segregation and historical or structural racism outweighed the benefits.

Separate school students may experience harsher discipline and more frequent police presence, which correlates with poorer outcomes for black youth, the authors said.

“Furthermore, separate schools have fewer resources to provide adequate support for children’s mental health and cognitive development,” the authors wrote. “For example, compared to majority white schools, segregated schools often have high teacher turnover, less experienced teachers, limited material resources, and overcrowded classrooms due to an inequitable distribution of school funding, which which can lead to poorer mental health management in children.”

The study, however, did not find that school segregation had an impact on a child’s general health, obesity, and diagnosis of mental or emotional problems, although data are more limited for these other effects on health. health.

Residential segregation in the Bay Area dates back decades, resulting from World War II policies that limited where African Americans could live, as was the case with parts of Oakland and County of Marine. Other communities were considered “sunset towns”, where blacks and other people of color were banned from the streets after dark.

Segregation remains woven into the fabric of the region, according to a 2019 report by the Haas Institute for a Just and Inclusive Society.

“The Bay Area is visibly segregated at the regional, county, metropolitan, municipal and neighborhood levels,” the authors wrote. “African Americans are the most racially concentrated group in the Bay Area, with 75 percent of Bay Area black residents residing in just 26 percent of the region’s census tracts.”

Hamad said the research illustrates the need to address support available specifically for black students in racially segregated schools, but also the imperative to have a national conversation about how to reduce such segregation.

She noted that Berkeley and San Francisco are among school districts that have adopted school assignment policies to help combat school segregation without specifically using a student’s race in the process, which would violate state law. ‘State. While Berkeley’s plan using neighborhood demographics has improved school diversity, San Francisco’s school choice policy, which gives some students in underperforming census streams a preferred placement, has only exacerbate segregation.

The city’s school board is currently working on a new assignment process that would use attendance zones, giving families some choice while potentially reducing segregation.

“I think there’s a growing recognition that this is important,” Hamad said. “We have to test many different policies.”

Jill Tucker is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @jilltucker

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