Racism Crafted Anne Arundel’s School Boundaries and Community Divisions — Now Is the Time to Fix Them

A groundbreaking ceremony taking place on November 16, 2017 at the new Crofton High School site in Gambrills| Image from the Capital Gazette

“Years in the making,” The community of Crofton (virtually) opened its own high school in the Fall of 2020. After 21 years of Crofton Middle School graduates being split between Arundel and South River High Schools, having a high school in Crofton became a dream. But now, that dream has become a reality for residents of the greater Crofton area — well, at least for most people in the greater Crofton area. Last year in April, residents of Crofton, Odenton, and Gambrills met inside of the Arundel High School auditorium to vote on attendance boundaries for the brand new Crofton High School. Although one would assume that everyone attending Crofton Middle School and its feeder elementary schools would simply be re-assigned to the new Crofton High School, none of the scenarios proposed for the new school’s attendance boundaries had such an option.

Some children attending Crofton schools were pushed over to the Arundel feeder system, which lead to allegations of a more ethnically diverse neighborhood being “excluded from attending the shiny brand new high school” and accusations of the decision being an act of gerrymandering school boundaries. Another attendee at the meeting accused Crofton area residents of exercising their white privilege.

Crofton area residents were offended by the accusations and noted that they weren't even given the racial demographics of the neighborhoods when coming up with attendance boundary proposals; they said they didn’t want their schools to be over-crowded. However, families from the Arundel feeder system said Arundel Middle School and its feeder elementary schools are also over-crowded. Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ spokesperson, Bob Mosier, backed Crofton area residents up, noting that drawing school attendance boundaries based on race or test scores is illegal and he assured that they did not play a role in deciding on attendance boundaries for Crofton High School or for any other schools in Anne Arundel County.

Although it is unclear whether race played a role in deciding who will attend Crofton High School, Bob Mosier's claims aren’t very re-assuring. For one, although racial demographics aren’t provided to redistricting committees, one can easily do a quick Google search of a neighborhood’s racial demographics, and most people tend to be familiar with the racial composition of neighborhoods within their areas. Further, there is a preponderance of evidence showing that affluent and predominately white communities in Anne Arundel County located near schools and communities with more ethnic minorities and lower-income families have extensively lobbied for the school district to move them out of their majority-Black/ethnically diverse and majority low-income neighborhood schools, and into the attendance area for schools that are predominately white and affluent. More often than not, this also resulted in majority-minority or more diverse neighborhoods being displaced from the majority-white schools they once attended to make room for the affluent communities who lobbied for their children to be in those schools.

Also, compelling corroboration exists suggesting that county land-use zoning laws have been used as racist and classist tools to gentrify a lot of the county and prevent minorities and poor people from being able to move back into feeder systems that segregate them from white and affluent students. Sources show that Anne Arundel County Public Schools have very high rates of segregation and that Black students and white students in the county are concentrated at different schools. Further, Maryland as a whole is the 3rd most racially segregated state in the country, which is reflected in our public schools. Like most other school districts across the nation, schools in Anne Arundel County are more segregated today than they were in the 1980s — with schools that are 90% or more ethnic minority in the county increasing from 0–4% between 1990 and 2010. Despite diversity increasing, segregation is also increasing.

Despite being located only 5 miles away from each other, most Anne Arundel County residents would give you wildly different descriptions of South River High School in Edgewater and Annapolis High School, near the state’s capital. Maybe they’d note that Annapolis High has a strong International Baccalaureate (IB) magnet program and a creative Performing Visual Arts magnet program. Perhaps, they’d tell you about South River High’s rigorous STEM magnet program and tell you about South River’s notorious he-hawks who aren’t afraid to break masculine standards and dance in short shorts for school spirit chants.

But one thing is for sure, they are more likely than not going to mention demographic differences between the two schools. South River High School is a majority-white school with a large percentage of affluent students, a handful of whom reside in Davidsonville — Anne Arundel County’s richest community and one of the richest towns in Maryland. On the other hand, Annapolis High School has a minority enrollment of approximately 66% — most of which consists of Hispanic and Black students, and 50% of students qualify for free and reduced-price meals. South River High School has a solid academic reputation throughout the county and the state; Meanwhile, it isn’t uncommon for real estate agents to steer families with children away from buying homes in the Annapolis High School attendance area, who warn them of the school’s quality and push them towards homes in the attendance areas for Severna Park, Broadneck, Arundel, Crofton, South River, or Chesapeake High Schools instead — all of which are majority or largely white schools with quite affluent student bodies.

The difference between these two schools was strongly felt by a few majority-white and wealthy communities located on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula side of the South River/Solomon Island Road Bridge. Prior to the late 1990s, these communities were assigned to schools in the Annapolis High School attendance area. However, in 1997, the vast majority of the 125 school-aged children in these neighborhoods were not attending their assigned public schools. In fact, in 1997, no high school or middle school children in these neighborhoods were attending their assigned public schools and only 3 elementary school children from these areas were attending the 90% Black Mills-Parole Elementary School. The vast majority of school-aged children were enrolled in private schools, and of those enrolled in public schools, most received transfers to schools in nearby feeder systems that are majority white and strongly affluent, such as the South River and Broadneck High School feeder systems.

In the late 1990s, majority-white and affluent neighborhoods north of the South River Bridge on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula (highlighted in gray) have been carved out of the majority-minority and strongly working-class Annapolis High School feeder system and now belong to the majority-white and upper-income South River High School feeder system| Image from Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

Residents of these communities, which include Poplar Point, Gingerville, Ginger Hill, and Wilelinor, were extensively lobbying for the school district to re-assign them from the Annapolis High School feeder system to the South River High School feeder system for over a decade. They argued that although they are located on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula, they have Edgewater addresses and zip codes and that they should be assigned to schools in Edgewater. They also felt that public schools in Edgewater are more desirable than those on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula, and they were hopeful that being re-assigned to schools in the South River feeder system would increase their property values.

However, they were at odds with another neighborhood on the Annapolis Neck that has an Edgewater zip code called Dorsey Heights. The residents of Dorsey Heights, which has a large Black population, said that they don’t consider themselves to be part of Edgewater despite their zip code; subsequently, they didn’t want to be moved to South River High and its feeder schools. This made it even more clear that the majority-white neighborhoods were trying to push themselves away from ethnic minorties.

Because Edgewater Elementary School was over-crowded at the time, Anne Arundel County Public Schools officials and Edgewater Elementary parents were hesitant to re-assign the communities to the South River feeder system. However, residents of the community were fiercely lobbying to politicians and board members for over a decade, and because they’re very affluent communities, they were able to boycott Anne Arundel County Public Schools by opting for private schools instead. Residents said they felt “forced” to send their kids to private schools and continued to put pressure on AACPS to move them to South River schools. They appeased to school board officials by stating that they would pull their children out of private schools and enroll their children in the Anne Arundel County Public Schools District if the school board re-assigned them to South River feeder schools.

After immense amounts of pressure from the affluent communities, Anne Arundel County Public Schools Board officials gave in and re-assigned the communities to the South River feeder system, excluding Dorsey Heights, who wished to be dropped from the redistricting proposal. Ever since then, children living in the communities have been bused across the South River Bridge to those schools. This decision also came at the cost of de-segregation efforts created by Anne Arundel County Public Schools. In order to make room for the new students at South River feeder schools, Bywater, a majority-Black community on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula, was moved from majority-white schools in Edgewater to majority-Black schools on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula. This caused Black students to become even more concentrated in the Annapolis feeder system than they already were and also caused South River feeder schools to lose a significant amount of their diversity. Subsequently, AACPS literally trailed back its progress in desegregating Annapolis schools all the way back to the de-jure segregation era. In 1966, the Maryland Board of Education discovered that racial imbalance was strong Parole Elementary School in Annapolis (now known as Walter S. Mills-Parole Elementary School). The student body at the school was exclusively Black, and the Maryland State Department of Education ordered AACPS to integrate the school so that at least 15% of the student body would be white. Today, Mills-Parole Elementary is 41% Black and 55% Hispanic. White students only make up a mere 2% of the student body — far from the 15% figure that was supposed to be accomplished in the 1960s, let alone where that number should be all these decades later. 90% of the students at Mills-Parole Elementary qualify for free and reduced-price meals.

Photo from Shipley’s Choice Community Association

Zip-codes may have been an important part of the battle for getting Edgewater residents on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula to schools on the other side of the South River, but another majority-white and affluent neighborhood in Anne Arundel County sought to dissociate itself from its own zip code and reinvent itself with another nearby zip code. Residents of the Shipley’s Choice neighborhood in Millersville feel that they are the odd ones out among their Millersville neighbors, who are mostly working-class and more ethnically diverse. In fact, the Shipley’s Choice Homeowner’s Association asserts that “The community of Shipley’s Choice is on the western edge of Severna Park, MD.” Severna Park is the second most affluent town in Anne Arundel County, and one of the wealthiest towns in Maryland. Despite being located a stone throws to the Old Mill schools in Millersville, children of Shipley’s Choice, who belong to a census tract that is 93.8% white with a median household income of $178,828, are bused further away to Severna Park Middle and High Schools once they graduate from Shipley’s Choice Elementary School.

Severna Park residents weren’t always welcoming of Shipley’s Choice to their community or their schools, and tensions between Severna Park residents and residents of the Millersville neighborhood flared during a redistricting study to solve crowding issues at Severna Park High School. Residents of Shipley’s Choice have a very well-established reputation for being a very vocal community in local politics and banding together as a community to fight for their interests. That may stem from the Shipley’s’ Community Association’s mission, which states that it encourages the residents “…to participate cooperatively into such projects as will promote the general welfare, improve and protect the appearance, value, and convenience of property in Shipley’s Choice.” Shipley’s’ political clout was enough to instill fear in actual Severna Park residents, who once felt that Shipley’s was forcing its way into their community and schools — especially when Shipley’s residents wanted to name their elementary school “West Severna Park Elementary.” They worried that Shipley’s Choice’s residents’ desires to attend Severna Park schools would displace Severna Park residents from their own community’s schools.

Some Severna Park residents east of Ritchie Highway were afraid that AACPS was going to redistrict them to Chesapeake Bay Middle School and Chesapeake High School in Lake Shore (Pasadena), which were both under-enrolled, but are also 8 miles away from the Severna Park residents; Severna Park Middle and High Schools are located not even 2 miles away from the northernmost Severna Park neighborhoods in the area east of Ritchie Highway.

The powerful Shipley’s Choice was not willing to give in, however. They insisted that they were still going to do whatever it takes to keep their children in Severna Park schools. A proposal by AACPS to redistrict Shipley’s Choice to the Old Mill feeder system was quickly shot down by Shipley’s residents, including a Severna Park High School student from Shipley’s Choice, Gina Candella, who was the student member of the AACPS Board of Education at the time. Gina caused controversy following her election regarding comments she made about running for the position mostly so she could keep Shipley’s students in Severna Park schools.

Instead of pushing out Shipley’s or Berrywood, AACPS decided to move some students in the Severna Park feeder system from Arnold’s Mago Vista and Belvedere Heights neighborhoods to Broadneck High School — something that sat well with all parties involved.

However, another more ethnically diverse part of Severna Park with a larger working-class population still ended up supplanted from their neighborhood schools in Severna Park by Shipley’s residents. Residents of the area, namely home to the neighborhood of Riverdale, were not represented at all during the redistricting processes. Because residents of Riverdale were largely unaware and ill-informed by community members and the school board about redistricting, they ended up being an easy target for being quietly pushed out of the Severna Park feeder system. Riverdale and the neighborhoods that immediately surround it were redistricted to Chesapeake Bay Middle School and Chesapeake High School, taking them out of their neighborhood schools in Severna Park that are only 1.5 miles away from them. They are still part of the Chesapeake High School feeder system today.

The map on the left shows the percentage of Black people in census block groups within Central Anne Arundel County, and the map on the right shows the school attendance areas for a few of the high schools in Anne Arundel County. The locations of Shipley’s Choice and the Riverdale area are circled on both maps. Shipley’s Choice pushed themselves away from their more ethnically diverse and working-class neighborhood school (Old Mill High School) in favor of attending Severna Park High School. This displaced the more working-class and ethnically diverse Riverdale area miles away to Chesapeake High School.

Unfortunately, being displaced by Shipley’s Choice didn't end for Riverdale residents at school attendance boundaries. In the 1990s, they were also displaced from the Severna Park and Broadneck Peninsula county councilman district by Shipley’s Choice, which fought to become part of the district. Riverdale was pushed aside to the district that includes Pasadena. Despite objections from Riverdale residents, who argued that they were misled by both other neighborhoods in the area, their concerns were overshadowed by Shipley’s’ notorious political clout.

A map showing many of the councilman districts in Anne Arundel County. The circle on the right side shows the Riverdale area and the circle on the left side shows Shipley’s Choice| Image from Anne Arundel County government.

Throughout the years, Riverdale residents have occasionally brought up feelings of being neglected in discussions surrounding community decisions, and they say that they have never had their interests represented. Some residents have written in local newspapers, expressing their interests in returning to their neighborhood schools in Severna Park from time to time. Alas, their voices are shot into an echo chamber and not heard. They still have to watch buses taking children in the next neighborhood over to Severna Park schools, while their side is bused 8 miles away to schools in the Chesapeake feeder system.

When Anne Arundel County Public Schools Actively Worked to Push an Ethnically Diverse Neighborhood Out of a Majority-white High School

The main entrance to Arundel High School in Gambrills| Image from Arundel High’s newspaper, the Pulse.

When another neighborhood was advocating to stay in schools they considered part of their community, Anne Arundel County Public Schools officials were not as generous as they were with Shipley’s or Edgewater residents on the Annapolis Neck. The upper-middle-class and ethnically diverse neighborhood of Seven Oaks, which is located in the northernmost part of Odenton near the Fort Meade military base and National Security Agency, once extensive lobbied to keep their children in the majority-white and affluent Arundel High School in Gambrills after AACPS made several attempts move them to the majority-Black and more lower-income Meade High School feeder system in the 1990s. Like the Edgewater communities north of the South River, they used their zip-codes to their advantage to explain that although they are closer to Fort Meade schools, they are part of Odenton and they should continue to attend Arundel feeder schools as most other Odenton students do.

However, that didn’t matter to AACPS, which still insisted that the community should be moved to Meade’s feeder system because Arundel was overcrowded and children in Seven Oaks lived down the street from Meade High and its two feeder middle schools. Seven Oaks residents didn’t back down. In fact, they began to fight the school board even harder. Multiple Seven Oaks residents who are lawyers and attorneys in Washington DC successfully sued AACPS following a complaint to the United States Department of Justice and the Maryland State Department of Education that accused Anne Arundel County Public Schools of segregating their schools and requested the Department of Justice to study the racial balance within Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Residents of Seven Oaks came to that conclusion when they learned that majority-Black elementary schools in Anne Arundel County were concentrated in just two feeder systems: Meade and Annapolis. They also accused the school board of illegally privately forming a redistricting committee. Additionally, crowding at Arundel was soon going to be mitigated with talks of redistricting half of Crofton from Arundel High School to South River or Southern High School. This made AACPS’ proposal to move Seven Oaks to the Meade feeder system seem to have little to do with crowds and more to do with keeping as many Black students out of Arundel High School as the school board possibly could.

The Maryland State Department of Education ruled in favor of the community — calling the proposal “arbitrary and unreasonable.” Further, they noted that the decision to redistrict Seven Oaks from Arundel to Meade would hardly solve crowding issues at Arundel and that it would actually add even more crowds to the already over-crowded Meade area schools. Thus, the state board barred Anne Arundel County Public Schools from moving Seven Oaks students out of the Arundel High feeder system.

Unfortunately for Seven Oaks residents, the battle didn’t end there. Anne Arundel County Public Schools still made several more attempts over the following years to move the neighborhood to the Meade High feeder system, which effectuated more lawsuits against the school board. Nonetheless, AACPS worked diligently to address concerns made by the Department of Justice and Maryland State Board of Education regarding racial balance in their schools in order to justify moving Seven Oaks over to Meade High School.

In 2007, Arundel High School was suffering from crowds again. In addition, Crofton parents whose children were attending South River were unhappy and they wanted to see all Crofton kids united at Arundel High School again. Anne Arundel school officials wanted to move Seven Oaks to make room for the portion of Crofton zoned for South River to return to Arundel. AACPS successfully moved Seven Oaks students from Arundel High to Meade High because they were able to justify that it would relieve crowds at Arundel without over-burdening Meade.

Nearly 20 years later in November of 2016, Anne Arundel County Public Schools sent a letter to the same Edgewater families on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula who advocated for being moved to South River schools from Annapolis schools in the 1990s, notifying them that they were part of a redistricting study along with schools in the Annapolis High School feeder system. Just like last time, residents were met with anger and made their opposition loud and clear. “Edgewater Kids in Edgewater Schools” became a popular slogan among community residents— emphasizing their Edgewater addresses and zip codes despite being located on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula. Being in the social media age this time around, residents also took to Twitter and Facebook to spread their message. They argued that their children play in Edgewater sports leagues, that they attend churches in Edgewater, and they asserted that their community membership is sole with the other side of the South River; they see themselves as having nothing to do with Annapolis.

Annapolis Neck Edgewater residents also made it very lucid that they saw Annapolis schools as inferior and saw South River schools as academically strong. Many newer residents argued that they bought their homes just so that their children could attend Central Middle and South River High Schools. They threatened to vote out any school board members who supported any proposals moving them to Annapolis feeder schools. A few months later, AACPS respected the community’s wishes and dropped them out of the study.

In 2016, the majority-white and affluent communities on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula side of the South River Bridge were once again fighting to keep their kids in South River High School’s feeder system when AACPS explored the possibility of moving them back to the Annapolis feeder system| Image from the Capital Gazette

Slogans used by the communities on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula side of the South River Bridge were also echoed by Crofton area residents last April when attendance boundaries for Crofton High School were being established. Crofton residents were chanting “Crofton schools for Crofton kids” and strongly pushed for making Maryland Route 3 the dividing line between the Arundel and Crofton High School feeder systems because they feel that that’s the line that divides the “Crofton” area from the “Odenton” area. This is what lead to the neighborhood of Two Rivers and a neighborhood around the Waugh Chapel shopping center being excluded from the Crofton feeder system and re-assigned to schools in the Arundel feeder system — a decision that left residents of those neighborhoods who consider themselves to be an integral part of the Crofton community upset.

Although building unity among one’s local community is certainly vital, it is important to note that the boundaries of these “communities” are often very subjective, and Anne Arundel County residents who reside in predominately white and affluent communities have long used the idea of “keeping communities together” and “preserving our way of life” to advocate for measures that exacerbate segregation and gentrification in Anne Arundel County — especially in the public schools.

Residents of the “Edgewater” communities on the Annapolis Neck peninsula chose to build their communities on the other side of the South River, rather than integrating with neighbors on their own peninsula that are just down the road from them. They went out of their way to drop tens and thousands of dollars to send their kids to private schools or send them public schools in other feeder systems when they were part of the Annapolis High School feeder system. They never made any effort to build a community with the rest of the Annapolis Neck peninsula — their actual immediate neighbors. Zipcodes and addresses are meaningless to fostering community development, especially in a place like the Washington-Baltimore metro area, where nearly every community in the region doesn’t even belong to an actual town but to a census-designated place that often has one end of its geographic boundaries far away from the other part.

Almost no CDP in Anne Arundel County is served entirely by one feeder system. Some CDPs like Hanover and Laurel aren’t even entirely in Anne Arundel County and also have portions in Prince Georges and Howard Counties; some Hanover residents attend Meade and North County High Schools in Anne Arundel County, while children in the other half of Hanover attend Howard High School in Ellicott City, which belongs to a completely different school district (Howard County Public Schools).

If Edgewater kids should stay in Edgewater schools, does that mean Millersville kids — including those from Shipley’s Choice, should stay in Millersville schools, too? Or do zip-codes only matter when they will keep wealthier and white children in wealthier and whiter schools?

Though it is unclear what was meant by Crofton being an “exclusive” gated community, it is very likely that such a characteristic made it hard for Black people and other ethnic minorities to live there. Crofton was created during the height of the civil rights movement — a time when Black students and white students in Anne Arundel County were attending different schools and Black people were legally paid less for the same positions as white people — including AACPS’ own Black teachers, who were often more qualified than white teachers. These are many middle-aged and younger Black people’s parents and grandparents.

What’s remarkable is that in 1960, 4 years prior to the founding of Crofton, the census tracts that include modern-day Crofton had significant Black populations. One census tract that includes modern-day Crofton was up to 50% Black, and the other census tract that covers the rest of modern-day Crofton was 10–30% Black. By 1980, about half of the census tracts covering Crofton decreased to less than 10% Black, and by 2000, all but one of the census tracts that cover Crofton was less than 10% Black. This is not unique to Crofton, but to most regions in Anne Arundel County that are majority-white and affluent today. In fact, if Black people were as dispersed throughout the county today as they were in 1960, the vast majority of public schools in Anne Arundel County would be integrated — even with the “neighborhood schools” concept that the county centers itself around. Yet, today, we are left with a school district where Black students are highly concentrated in 2 of 14 feeder systems.

A map of concentrations of Black Residents in Anne Arundel County from 1960–2000. The Black population in Anne Arundel County used to be a lot more widespread. Following the 1960s, the Black population became more and more concentrated in just a few areas of the county| Figure from Mullin & Lonergan Associates

Some elementary schools in school clusters that are often noted for being very white and affluent actually started out as all-Black schools. According to Philip L. Brown, an Anne Arundel County native who attended segregated schools and author of A Century of “Separate But Equal” Education in Anne Arundel County, Arnold Elementary School in the Broadneck feeder system, Jones Elementary School in the Severna Park feeder system, and Mayo and Davidsonville Elementary Schools in the South River feeder system were originally all-Black schools during the segregation era. South County and the Crofton area were also home to a significant portion of all-Black elementary schools that closed down following de-jure desegregation in 1966.

A map showing where Anne Arundel County’s “Colored” elementary schools were located| Image from Philip L. Brown’s “A Century of ‘Separate But Equal’ Education in Anne Arundel County”

South County, which includes communities such as Davidsonville, Edgewater, and Shady Side, had some of the largest Black communities in all of Anne Arundel County in 1960. Today, they are some of the whitest communities in the county. Black people made up around 50% of the population in South County in 1960, but today, they make up a mere 3.8% of the population in Edgewater and 4% of the population in Davidsonville. The Broadneck Peninsula — located north of the Annapolis Neck Peninsula, was up to 30% Black in 1960. Today, the Broadneck Peninsula is roughly 90% white and is one of the most affluent regions in the entire county and the state of Maryland.

Some people provide some insight into this gentrification, too. Vicky Bruce, an author, science journalist, and filmmaker from Anne Arundel County explains that:

The bulldozing of African American neighborhoods and culture by the City of Annapolis started in the 1960s, and the decimation of the black community has continued ever since. At one of the highest per-capita public housing areas in the world, Annapolis hid away its black population, made tourist maps showing all white people grinning and licking ice cream cones at City Dock. Property values went through the roof. Tourism boomed.

Behind the scenes, Annapolis’ black population was tucked away, as Snowden describes, in dilapidated public housing units with one way in, one way out — with no services, no access. It was a trap, a “reservation” to hide the scourge of racism and inequality in an up-and-coming destination for rich whites.

What’s even more noteworthy about these drastic demographic changes over a relatively short period of time is that they started taking place when public schools de-jure desegregated, and newspaper archives from the 1960s and 1970s strongly evince that de-jure desegregation orders were indeed the motive behind gentrification and de-facto/modern-day segregation in Anne Arundel County.

The history of Anne Arundel County’s school attendance boundaries from 1966–1982 and land zoning laws are largely unaccounted for, but newspaper archives from that time period provide some insight into them. Newspaper archives from 1965 and 1966, when AACPS de-jure de-segregated, showed that white parents from South County were very hesitant to the de-segregation orders. They protested the school board, saying they did not want their children to be educated by Black teachers and that children of any race shouldn’t be forced to attend integrated schools if they do not wish to. They favored the “separate but equal” approach — noting that they didn’t have a problem with Black people, they were only opposed to forced integration. Immediately following the county’s desegregation plans, which would have Black students outnumbering white students in many South County schools, South County parents planned to create an admissions-based private school in their community, which they sought to get public funding for.

Restrictive land-use zoning laws also started intensifying in Anne Arundel County following the 1960s. Because African-Americans are historically and contemporarily more likely to experience poverty than white people, changes in land-use from higher-density housing types to mostly low-density single-family homes in areas that are now majority-white and affluent made it hard for Black families to continue to live in these areas. Waterfront cottage communities that once belonged Black watermen were torn down to make way for large and expensive homes — significantly reducing the amount of public access to waterfront property and keeping it restricted to mostly wealthy white people. People connected to a historically Black neighborhood in Severna Park which didn't have running water slowly could no longer afford to live in Severna Park — resulting in some heritage sites and family homes being razed to make way for the larger low-density single-family homes that now sit on that land. Their families helped cultivate the early history of Severna Park and the amenities that some of today’s residents enjoy, such as Jones Elementary School.

Further, areas in Anne Arundel County that are primarily zoned as rural, such as Davidsonville, are actually used as proxies for low-density housing developments. Although Davidsonville is zoned as “rural,” a plethora of wealthy people have taken advantage of the restrictive rural zoning laws to build numerous multi-million dollar mansions on large plots of land.

This history is why “keeping the communities together” and “preserving the character of our neighborhoods” are problematic statements. The neighborhoods in question are characterized by gentrification and de-facto segregation that intensified following de-jure de-segregation. By “keeping communities together” in schools, we are essentially keeping our schools as segregated as our “communities” are.

A news article from The Baltimore Sun published on November 10, 1996 shows that Severna Park residents were angered after a youth center from Glen Burnie held a dance in a Severna Park facility — revealing that the “character” of Severna Park largely centers around its wealth and exclusivity.

Race/class relations in Anne Arundel County are very poor relative to the rest of Maryland. In 2018, Anne Arundel County had the most hate crimes of any jurisdiction in Maryland, urging county executive Stuart Pittman to declare racism as a public health issue. A lot of this racism occurs in our schools as well — in fact, in 2018, Pasadena had the most hate crimes in the county, and majority of them were traced to Chesapeake High School.

In 1994, Anne Arundel County Public Schools appointed its first Black superintendent, Carol S. Parham. Her appointment to the school board caused lots of petitions from parents in Severna Park and Millersville (Shipley’s Choice) who requested a nationwide search for a superintendent. Later on, in the early 2000s, Parham received a racially-charged death threat after she decided to temporarily house students from Edgewater’s Mayo Elementary School inside of a vacant wing at Annapolis Middle School until the completion of Mayo’s brand new building. Parham, her family, and her house had to be guarded by police at all times for weeks. Initially, the parents cited long bus rides to Annapolis Middle School from the Mayo Peninsula as their reason for opposing the measure. However, the board decided to proceed with busing Mayo students to the vacant wing at Annapolis Middle anyways, noting that moving Mayo students to another school in Edgewater until the completion of the new building would severely over-burden those schools with crowds. Angry Edgewater parents abnegated to accept the decision, prompting them to hire a lawyer. Soon after, the decision made by Parham yielded racist comments about the majority-Black student body at Annapolis Middle School from Edgewater residents and the anonymous death threat towards the superintendent.

Although the Mayo residents overwhelmingly condemned the threats and racist comments, the Edgewater area has gained a reputation for being unwelcoming towards ethnic minorities. During the 2002-2003 school year, there was a 5 month period of civil unrest at South River High School. Throughout the period of those 5 months, KKK flyers were periodically found around the school, several incidents occurred where Black and Jewish students were targeted, and students’ cars were vandalized with racist messages — ultimately resulting in the arrest of 5 students in connection to those incidents. Months later, when the now-defunct Annapolis based Afrocentric private college, Sojourner-Douglass College, planned on opening a satellite campus adjacent to South River High School, local residents came out in large numbers to protest against the plans — something that college officials were certain was because of race.

A flyer posted at South River High School in Feb 2019 objecting AACPS’s implementation of a new diversity and inclusion course as a graduation requirement. The course was introduced as a response to racist incidents at county schools| Image from the Capital Gazette.

More recently, during the nationwide protests of the killing of George Floyd in June, some South River High School students were found making comments on social media about the death of Floyd that South River principal, William T. Myers, described as “racist, intolerant, and hate-filled ideals” and “horrific.”

Strings of recent racist events at South River motivated hundreds of concerned local residents — most of whom were white, to organize and hold a Black Lives Matter and police accountability march, where they marched from the high school to the local police station. Similar events took place in Crofton, Severna Park, Odenton, Glen Burnie, Shady Side, and Pasadena — some of which were also motivated by racism in those areas.

The event that took place at Pasadena’s Northeast High School yielded strong opposition from many local residents. In Shady Side, a peninsula in South County that is 83.6% white and somewhat more conservative, the march was called “the first of its kind” and Black Lives Matter protestors were met with a contingent of counter-protesters who sported Trump and Confederate flags and shouted expletives at the protestors. A protest in Severna Park that was held in August had roughly 100 Black Lives Matter marchers on one side of the street and around 50 Blue Lives Matter marchers on the other side of the street. Many ethnic minorities who reside in the areas where the protests garnered lots of opposition say the opposition demonstrates why the protests are needed in those areas — they say that the communities are very hostile environments for ethnic minorities. 20-year-old Shelyia Brown, a Pasadena resident who organized the Black Lives Matter protest there said “This area needed this [the protests]: Too many times I would walk around Northeast High and people would say: Do you live here? Do you go here?…That cannot be accepted!” Some minorities say the environment was so hostile that it pushed them to move elsewhere.

On May 31, 2020, approximately 200–400 people from Severna Park and other nearby towns gathered at Severna Park High School to hold a vigil for George Floyd, which was planned by two Severna Park moms with Black children| Image from the Severna Park Voice.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to integrating public schools in Anne Arundel County is the county’s zoning laws for land use. Today, Anne Arundel County lacks inclusionary zoning county-wide, and a 2020 Fair Housing report from Root Policy Research notes that Anne Arundel County has even acknowledged that it concentrates high-density zoning in areas where minorities are concentrated — thus, effectively racially and socio-economically segregating its neighborhoods and communities, which ends up being observed in public school enrollment as well.

Even when accounting for income, low-income ethnic minorities in Anne Arundel County are still significantly less likely to live in areas with low-poverty than low-income white residents of the county are. The only exception is that (when excluding the city of Annapolis), low-income Hispanics are the most likely to have access to low-poverty neighborhoods among people of other ethnic groups who are low-income. However, the highest concentration of Hispanics in Anne Arundel County is in the city of Annapolis, where they do face disparities compared to low-income whites.

Charts showing access to low-poverty neighborhoods among different ethnic groups in different jurisdictions within the Baltimore metro area when accounting for income. Although Anne Arundel County fares well in this category compared to most other jurisdictions in the region, there are still notable disparities| Figure from Root Policy Research (2020)

Newspaper articles from as far back as the 1970s show that Severna Park and other Broadneck Peninsula residents (which encompasses Severna Park, Arnold, and the 21409 zip code region of Annapolis) have always pushed back against high-rises, apartments, townhomes, and other high-density housing projects in the area. They often cited that such developments would “disrupt the character” of their communities. Back in the day, Severna Park residents were not afraid to publicly express blatantly classist views that sometimes had racial undertones. Some residents were quoted in newspapers saying they didn’t want to become another Glen Burnie, which is a blue-collar area in Anne Arundel County that is just a few miles north of Severna Park. Other newspaper archives reveal that Severna Park residents once strongly opposed senior-citizen apartments proposed for the area in 1985 because they feared that the apartments would “weaken the community’s image as an enclave of expensive homes for professional and white-collar workers.” Terry Schoener, who was in support of the project, tried to assuage resident’s fears by reminding them that “We are not talking about bringing a lot of poor inner-city people here…we’re talking about people like your mother and father.”

Tweets from Donald Trump after he announced he was rolling back on civil rights from the 1960s (regarding fair housing laws) and replacing them with “preserving communities and neighborhood choice.” These words are often racially coded and appeal to suburban middle-class and affluent white families.

Similar comments were made last year by a former Anne Arundel County Republican councilman — one that is notorious for making inflammatory comments, when new workforce housing legislation was passed in Anne Arundel County. Former councilman, John Grasso said “We are trying to turn Anne Arundel County into Baltimore City, they are saying workforce housing, it is called low income housing.” Grasso has caused controversy in the past when he made comments about Glen Burnie being the “new ghetto” and also made comments about Islam on social media that were referred to as “hate-filled posts.”

A political cartoon drawn by Eric Smith from the Capital (now the Capital Gazette) featured next to a publication on January 12, 1973, regarding Severna Park residents’ opposition to high-rises — just 7 years following de-jure de-segregation in Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

Residents of these communities don’t always sound racist or classist when they oppose such development. They often cite reasonable concerns, such as school capacity, traffic flow, and even pollution/environmental damage. However, residents seemingly only delineate these perturbations when proposals for affordable housing, multi-family unit housing, and apartments arise. They often strongly support or are neutral to other types of developments that contribute to traffic and pollution — the most notable example being golf courses and agricultural pollution. Golf courses are abundant in wealthier areas of Anne Arundel County. Crownsville, Lake Shore, Crofton, Edgewater, Severna Park, and Arnold all have golf courses. These golf courses are also strong pollutants of the bay’s watersheds.

In Lake Shore, a part of Pasadena that is noticeably wealthier than the rest of Pasadena, things weren’t always so lucidly different from the other side of Rock Creek. In fact, before the early 2000s and late 1990s, Lake Shore was very working-class and it was a place frequently scoffed at by residents of nearby Severna Park and Broadneck. The area was more-so associated with Riviera Beach (the other half of Pasadena, which remains strongly working-class today) and Glen Burnie. Local residents began making desperate attempts to shed this image and wanted to be associated with wealthier areas instead. They pushed to bring upscale dining and grocery options to the area, and waterfront cottages were being destroyed to make way for large and expensive waterfront mansions on the Magothy River, Rock Creek, and Chesapeake Bay. A local newspaper said that residents were finding ways to “nurture — and expand — this gentrification” so that they could “attract the BMW crowd.” As such, a new golf course was constructed in 2003, but the construction of the course flooded local creeks with toxic stormwater runoff — a compromise that was worth it to residents who wanted Lake Shore to acquire the prestige of Severna Park/Broadneck in hopes that their property values would skyrocket.

Construction of the Compass Pointe Golf Course in the Lake Shore region of Pasadena in 2003 caused lots of polluted storm-water runoff to flood nearby creeks. Despite the environmental impacts, residents still supported the golf course as part of a large effort to “upscale” Lake Shore| Image from the Baltimore Sun.

Further, studies on the Severn River — a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay which has a watershed throughout the areas of Severna Park, Annapolis, Arnold, Crownsville, Millersville, Severn, Odenton, and Gambrills, have shown that pet feces are one of the main sources of pollution in the Severn River. Precisely, a 2012 study found that a whopping 68% of bacteria in the Severn River watershed and 87% of bacterial pollution in a Magothy River tributary in Arnold were attributable to pet feces. Pet owners who reside in these watersheds are often neglectful of properly disposing of their pet’s feces, which leads to excess nitrogen and bacteria (the most common source of pollutants in the bay’s watershed) in these watersheds when the feces get flushed into stormwater runoff. Additionally, a more recent 2017 report from the Chesapeake Stormwater Network found that Chesapeake Bay watershed residents in general neglect to clean after their pets — resulting in an estimated 50 million pounds of nitrogen and 11 million pounds of phosphorous being emptied into the bay annually.

Data shows that agricultural sources in the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed are the largest contributors to pollutants. Much of the “Urban/Suburban runoff” is likely sourced from pet feces as well| Figures from the Chesapeake Bay Program

Despite the laundry list of issues and developments that contribute to pollution in our watershed that are far above high-density residential development, most residents of wealthy and majority-white communities seldom express any concern about these contributors to pollution in the watershed or are completely oblivious to them. They instead seem to only be invested in “environmental impact” when it comes to poor, working-class, and even moderate-income people looking for safe, affordable housing in their communities. With careful and thoughtful planning, higher-density housing can actually be environmentally friendly — especially if there is good access to public transportation, as it reduces urban sprawl. Additionally, Severna Park and Pasadena residents are among the most overburdened by home payments among Anne Arundel County communities. 51% of the residents in these areas are classified as “extremely overburdened” on their homes — much higher than the already alarming 26.4% figure for the county overall, making the Severna Park-Pasadena submarket the one with the most financially overburdened residents in the entire county. Severna Park, the Broadneck Peninsula, and the Odenton-Crofton submarket have been identified as “high-opportunity” areas by Fair Housing researchers due to their access to public transportation, jobs, and excellent public schools. Despite this, affordable housing is increasingly scarce, specifically in Severna Park and the Broadneck Peninsula. Thus, affordable housing will benefit everyone.

A comment on a Facebook post opposing affordable housing within a private Facebook group for one of the wealthy and majority-white communities of Anne Arundel County reveals that behind closed doors, residents sometimes express their more selfish concerns. Such comments also ironically highlight the segregation in Anne Arundel County — where there is “plenty of affordable housing” in Brooklyn Park, but none in affluent areas.

The irony about cries of “environmental concerns” is that majority-minority and working-class areas in Northern Anne Arundel County actually suffer from pollutants the most, and there is no doubt that this disparity exists because Northern Anne Arundel County is one of the areas in the county where working-class and minority residents are concentrated. This phenomenon, which is pretty widespread and not unique to Anne Arundel County, is known as “environmental racism” and is a global public health issue. The water crisis in predominately-Black areas within Flint, Michigan is probably the most well-known example of environmental racism within the United States and is also said to be the most egregious example. However, environmental racism doesn’t only exist in Flint, Anne Arundel County, or even the United States; It exists in China as well. Within Maryland, other nearby counties have notable issues of environmental racism as well — even our next-door neighbors in the majority-Black Prince George’s County.

Air Quality Environmental Health Index of residents in different counties/jurisdictions considered to be part of the Baltimore metro area. Anne Arundel and Howard Counties have the largest disparities in air quality between white and non-white residents among Baltimore metro area jurisdictions. This leads to asthma, which is a common cause of chronic absenteeism in schools — thus worsening academic performance for many ethnic minority students| Figure from Root Policy Research (2020)

Environmental racism is rampant in Anne Arundel County because power plants and industrial sites within Anne Arundel County are disproportionately located in or near areas that are working-class and have more ethnic minorities. Within a census block that is nearly 70% Black in Jessup, a town that is partially in Northwestern Anne Arundel County, there are 3 different concrete plants, an asphalt plant, and a sawmill within a 1-mile radius of each other. On top of that, there is a concrete plant directly behind the diverse Waugh Chapel area neighborhood that was moved from Crofton schools to Arundel schools, and a new landfill is proposed to go next to the site of the new Two Rivers Elementary School — just a few short miles away. To make matters even worse, this is also just south of the northern tract of the Patuxent Research Refugee.

Areas in Northern Anne Arundel County are so polluted that a report from 2017 revealed that residents of working-class and majority-minority areas in Northern Anne Arundel are particularly prone to lead poisoning from traces of metal in their water. That metal comes from the many industrial plants in Northern Anne Arundel communities. Despite the detrimental impacts of lead poisoning — namely its potential to cause cognitive disabilities in children, very little attention and advocacy has been given to the issue; they are over-shadowed by residents in wealthier areas who are heavily involved in local politics.

The major contributors of pollutants in Anne Arundel County are disproportionately located within and near majority-Black and working-class parts of Anne Arundel County. The vast majority of these facilities are concrete, power, and asphalt plants. The rest consists of a landfill and a sawmill. The stars on the map represent operating plants. Race data from U.S. Census Bureau 2014–2018 ACS.
Projected enrollments at Anne Arundel County Public High Schools in 2029. High schools that serve a high percentage of low-income students — such as Annapolis, Glen Burnie, Meade, and North County, are expected to exceed 100% of their state rated capacity. Chesapeake, South River, and Southern High Schools are projected to have an excess of empty seats| Chart from Anne Arundel County Public Schools

Another common argument wealthy and majority-white communities in Anne Arundel County make against higher-density and affordable housing developments is school capacity. In May, 2020, the Anne Arundel County government was receiving public testimony from residents regarding updates to workforce housing proposals. The vast majority of respondents had Severna Park addresses, with a significant minority also having Millersville (mostly Shipley’s Choice) and Pasadena addresses. They staunchly opposed the proposal, often pointing to school capacity as the prime concern. However, the reality is that these parts of the county have some of the most available seats in the entire county. In the fall of 2019, Pasadena’s Chesapeake High School had 700 empty seats, making it the high school with the most empty seats in the county. Although some Severna Park schools are currently experiencing capacity issues, the high school still has 225 empty seats, and redistricting/expansions at the elementary and middle school level could easily solve crowding at Severna Park area elementary and middle schools. The enrollment numbers at both high schools are expected to remain the same in 2029, as well.

135 of 182 acres of forest were cleared in Hanover, which is partially located in Northwestern Anne Arundel County, to make way for Parkside Townhomes. Another townhome and high-density single-family home community, Shipley Hamstead, was also constructed across the street. Local schools are at or very over-capacity| Figure from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Areas in Northern and Western Anne Arundel County, where minorities and low-income residents are concentrated, and where school capacity truly is scarce, are the ones seeing the most development and deforestation. Forests across the street from the Ciena Corporate Campus in Hanover were recently razed to make way for new townhomes. Teens living in these townhomes will be sent to North County High School, which is already at capacity and predicted to be 134% full in 2029 despite having a building that’s capable of holding 139 more students than Severna Park High and 226 more students than Chesapeake High. Also in Hanover, but in the Meade High School attendance area, forests were cut down to make way for the new large Parkside townhome neighborhood.

One of the most common myths about de-segregating our schools is that bringing ethnic minorities and poor students to wealthier schools with a predominately white student body will decrease the school’s test scores and academic reputation. Not only is this a selfish concern, but it’s not backed up by evidence either. Research has shown that students of all races at integrated schools have better test scores than students at segregated schools do among several other benefits: integrated schools benefit students socially, they help increase critical thinking and problem solving among children, they improve race relations, they decrease drop out rates, and they increase the number of students going to college. Further, minority and low-income students who attend wealthier and more resourced schools do significantly better than their counterparts who attend schools with high concentrations of poverty — one of the largest studies that demonstrated this occurred in nearby Montgomery County, which showed that low-income students who were randomly assigned to public housing in affluent feeder systems did significantly better in school and performed two grade levels above their counterparts in high-poverty feeder systems.

There is already data in Anne Arundel County that supports some of the findings of this research. Although test scores in Maryland have been notably low during the last 6 years due to constant changes — with Anne Arundel County, in particular, struggling with newer Algebra exams, one can see which schools are doing better at them looking at the latest test scores from 2020. Comparing Broadneck High School — a majority-white (74%) high school with a strongly affluent student body, where only 9% of students are low-income, with Arundel High School — a largely-white (51%) and relatively affluent, yet racially balanced school, where 16% of students are low-income, one can easily see that Arundel students in each ethnicity cohort are doing better on both Algebra and English standardized exams than Broadneck students. Arundel’s Black (26% of students) and Hispanic students (9% of students) have exam scores that exceed state averages for Black and Hispanic students as well. Additionally, Arundel’s low-income students are graduating at a rate of 88%, a nearly whopping 10% higher than the state of Maryland’s rate of 79% for low-income students; Broadneck’s low-income students’ graduation rate of 83% is notably lower.

School ratings in and of themselves exacerbate neighborhood and school segregation, and increased value placed in them is only making the issue worse. Because many school rating and ranking sites don’t do a great job at accounting for socioeconomic differences, rankings largely reflect which schools have more wealthy students than they reflect a school’s curriculums or academic programs. This leads to wealthier people being more likely to end up in areas served by wealthier public schools. Unfortunately, because public school funding is determined by property taxes, this contributes to the hoarding of quality public resources, including schools, in areas that are inaccessible to people who are low-income (and sometimes even moderate-income in wealthier Maryland counties such as Howard, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, and Calvert) — keeping other areas under-funded and under-resourced. This is what maintains “good schools” and “bad schools” in an area, rather than having good schools throughout an entire jurisdiction. Additionally, as flawed as they are, rankings do somewhat take academic achievement gaps into consideration — this is a large part of what pushed Broadneck, Arundel, and South River High Schools from a 9 or 10/10 on GreatSchools in 2014 to a 7/10 today, and what pushed Chesapeake High all the way down to a 6/10. Achievement gaps were part of what pushed these schools far below where they once ranked on lists such as US News and Newsweek as well. Thus, taking measures to close the academic achievement gap will improve rankings.

Anne Arundel County was the second to last county in the Baltimore metro area to update its Fair Housing laws to protect low-income people using vouchers from housing discrimination, and one of the last in the among the greater Washington-Baltimore metro area in general. Nearby Howard County has had protections for low-income people using vouchers for over 20 years now. Up until last year, renters and real estate agents were allowed to discriminate against people using vouchers in Anne Arundel County, and passing the bill that now protects these residents proved itself to be controversial — especially among residents and county council representatives from predominately-white areas with more affluence, such as Arnold, Lake Shore, and Edgewater.

This is not to say that integrating our schools will solve all equity issues. There are still achievement gaps at integrated schools like Arundel High, and there are several other issues to address that contribute to inequities in education, but integration is still vital to addressing a large portion of inequities, and equitable education cannot be achieved without it. Decades of evidence from de-jure segregation and modern-day segregation show that the “separate but equal” approach doesn’t work. During the days of all-Black schools, AACPS’ all-Black schools often suffered from poor facilities and school years that ended months before white schools did. Today, schools with more low-income students and ethnic minorities have significantly lower teacher retention rates and are left with more inexperienced teachers because it is hard for teachers to deal with the needs of too many disadvantaged students, who often need extra support. Bringing more affordable housing to areas that lack it will also reduce chronic absenteeism often experienced by homeless students, who already attend our schools and are on waiting lists along with 17,000 people for public housing.

A diverse group of students from Northwood High School in Montgomery County’s Silver Spring, Maryland are the ones who have been leading the fight for school integration in Montgomery County Public Schools.

The first step in moving forward is acknowledging that there is a problem. It is undeniable that race and class have played a large role in forming the shape of Anne Arundel County’s neighborhoods and school attendance boundaries, and if the school board continues to deny this, then they are being colorblind and complicit. Although no substantial evidence has surfaced that Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ attendance boundaries have directly been drawn on racial lines and income-lines, there is more than enough evidence that shows that wealthy and majority-white neighborhoods have successfully lobbied to push themselves away from their ethnically and socio-economically diverse neighborhood schools and inserted themselves into whiter schools with wealthier students in other neighborhoods — far too often at the expense of pushing predominately-Black or more diverse communities out of their own neighborhood schools. It is not hard to believe that this likely resulted in the diverse Waugh Chapel neighborhood being pushed out of Crofton schools that they were already attending. Anne Arundel County has a lengthy history of holding back on integration efforts dating back to de-jure segregation. Philip. L Brown notes in his book, A Century of “Separate But Unequal” Education in Anne Arundel County, that the county was notably slow at de-segregating its schools in the 1960s — something that school officials back then attributed to fears of “the tremendous effect on children and young people of both races if they had been suddenly thrown together on a large scale.” Unfortunately, the school system hasn’t moved very far from this mindset. They still sacrifice integration and equity to appease wealthy white residents of the county.

Today, Anne Arundel County’s segregation is so abrasive that incorporating the “neighborhood schools” concept, a major tool used to segregate schools, would actually help integrate Anne Arundel schools in some areas— lacking the need for busing in those areas. Further, undoing what was done by wealthy and white communities would actually give relief to a lot of capacity issues at Anne Arundel Schools, because the current boundaries result in crowds to be divided unevenly among different feeder systems.

A quote from Maureen Carr York regarding the shuffling of students between the Old Mill and Severna Park feeder systems in a Capital Gazette news publishing from March 17, 1992.

Other nearby counties like Howard and Montgomery County have joined plenty of other school districts across the country and already have plans in the works to de-segregate their schools and neighborhoods over the coming years. Anne Arundel County is trailing behind and has yet to even initiate a conversation about de-segregating schools and re-drawing racially and socio-economically influenced school attendance boundaries and land-use zoning laws, let alone begin the planning for it. That needs to change — conversations need to begin today, and plans need to start coming to fruition as soon as possible.

Communities of color and low-income communities have far too often been kept out of the loop when it comes to school redistricting proposals and land-use proposals, while communities that are majority-white with high-incomes are grossly overrepresented in these processes. This makes it far too easy for underrepresented minorities to pushed out of schools in their community by overrepresented communities and for them to have their communities uprooted for industrial and high-density zoning. County and school officials need to do a better job at communicating these processes to communities of color and lower-income communities to make sure they are represented in these vital processes.

Families from the extremely affluent River Hill High School feeder system in Howard County’s Clarksville, Maryland were protesting against a proposal that would send some of their children to Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Maryland, where 40% of students were low-income during the 2018–2019 school year| Image from Scott E’s Blog

History has shown that de-segregating schools has proven to be difficult, and that’s probably why re-segregation has resurfaced so easily once busing and integration laws were removed. Last year, when neighboring Howard County Public Schools made plans to desegregate their schools and redraw attendance boundaries for the 2020–2021 school year, large swaths of wealthy white and Asian-American families protested against the measure. Despite Howard County’s reputation as a progressive enclave that developed around the idea of inclusion and diversity, progressive values were not being expressed when several comments were left by parents from the wealthy River Hill High School feeder system, who said that Black people “destroy schools and communities” among many other obscene comments. Some parents even threatened to move outside of the county. Howard County Public Schools officials intrepidly stood by their plans and implemented them anyways, with the new boundaries being in effect beginning this school year. There is still some anger surrounding the plans, but tensions have eased up a bit compared to last year, and more parents have come around to the decision.

Here in Anne Arundel County, there were several predominately-white crowds of people marching in support of Black Lives Matter in Severna Park, Edgewater, and Crofton. We need to take our marches to the school board and county council meetings to advocate for people of color and low-income people. There is a mismatch between the residents of our communities marching for progressive movements like Black Lives Matter, and what we have been saying in public comment forums regarding proposals for affordable housing or potential redistricting. Those who truly care about issues affecting ethnic minorities and low-income people need to participate in these discussions and promote integration measures to their neighbors who oppose them. We need to write to our county executive and county council representatives, letting them know that we support integrating our schools/neighborhoods and that we’d like to see measures that promote integration — both in our student bodies and our school staff.

A Howard County parent who opposed redistricting plans in Howard County Public Schools left a picture of a Black family fighting at Disneyland with a comment “This is what you want…children from families like this attending our schools?” in a forum taking comments regarding the proposal. | Sourced from Edwin Rios, Mother Jones

Integration needs to be promoted in areas with high concentrations of ethnic minorities and low-income people as well. There needs to be more encouragement for those looking to move to Anne Arundel County to consider neighborhoods in feeder systems such as Meade, Annapolis, North County, Glen Burnie, Northeast, and Old Mill (though, not in a way where these areas are being gentrified and minorities or low-income people are being uprooted). All of these feeder systems have some wonderful neighborhoods with strong communities and lots of amenities, they are located conveniently close to job centers in Fort Meade/Washington DC/Baltimore/Annapolis, and homes in these areas are often at more affordable price points compared to other feeder systems in the county. Far too often, real estate agents and residents in more affluent parts of the county cause house hunters to overlook these benefits and steer them away from these areas — in large part due to the schools. In fact, school steering has now become synonymous with racial steering, which is illegal in real estate these days. Rather than paying attention to rankings, Anne Arundel County realtors need to promote house hunters to take the two tour pledge, which encourages parents to take tours of different schools in an area and meet with community members rather than relying on information from rating websites and real estate agents. Many parents have had great results with this.

One of the biggest challenges preventing families who would otherwise cooperate with integration is that they believe having their homes assigned to lower-rated schools will hurt their home values. However, market trends in Anne Arundel County exhibit that being assigned to lower-rated schools doesn’t automatically mean that one’s property values will decline and that conversely, being assigned to the top-rated schools doesn’t guarantee a rise in property values. Home sale price trends and market competition ratings from real estate websites show that many communities in Anne Arundel County that are served by lower-ranked schools have some of the most competitive house markets and the highest percentages of sale price increases over the last year in the entire county. The town that leads the way in these categories is Linthicum, with a home sale price increase of nearly 30% over the last year and a market competition ranking of 90. Children residing in Linthicum who go to public schools attend North County High School feeder schools, which are currently among the lowest-ranked schools in Anne Arundel County with a few exceptions. Crownsville, which saw the second-highest increase in home sale prices over the last year among Anne Arundel communities, is currently part of the Old Mill High School feeder system that Shipley’s Choice residents pushed themselves away from.

What’s even more ironic is that the prestigious Severna Park has actually seen a 1.5% decline in home sale prices over the last year. Schools certainly play a role in property values, but not nearly to the extent that people think they do, especially not in Anne Arundel County. Our property values largely center around the fact that our county offers lots of amenities and great proximity to job centers in the Fort Meade/Annapolis/Washington DC/Baltimore triangle. Schools tend to be more important to property values in areas that don’t offer much else besides their highly-ranked schools.

On the left is a box and whisker plot shows percentages of increase or decrease in home sale prices among Anne Arundel CDPs/cities/communities. On the right is a bar graph showing market competition among Anne Arundel CDPs/cities/communities. Some CPDs/cities/communities were excluded because there was no data or because they are partially located in other counties (i.e Hanover, Jessup, Laurel, and Owings). Data was sourced from redfin.com on 9/12/2020.
Image from the Capital Gazette

At the end of the day, prioritizing property values over fixing the conditions that this county has historically put Black families and children in is a selfish desire. Anne Arundel County touts itself as “The Best Place — For All,” and those who cross into our county via highways and roads are greeted with signs that display that slogan. However, behind those greeting signs located at our county’s borders is a place that is divided and bleeding through the cracks of that divide. Drivers who are greeted by that slogan are crossing over to a place where ethnic minority and low-income children are drinking lead-poisoned water — and a place where all the unwanted development/infrastructure/industrial sites go to communities where ethnic minorities are concentrated. Behind those signs are the developers cutting down their forests and razing their green spaces. “The Best Place — For All” is the same place where school officials pushed diverse communities out of their schools when wealthy white people from other neighborhoods wanted to attend or stay in them. When drivers are greeted by the slogan on Maryland Route 100 at the Howard/Anne Arundel County border, they can see a casino from the highway which failed to fulfill promises of bringing more funding to local schools in an area where ethnic minorities are concentrated and where schools are underfunded and have more inexperienced teachers. Behind those signs are the voices and concerns of underrepresented communities that are never sought after — let alone considered in important county decisions. “The Best Place — For All” is where gentrification is on the rise in very harsh ways. Those signs don’t hide the fact that county leaders prioritize the wants of the people who live in communities full of “professionals” in large homes with 2-car garages that were built in the 1980s — 2000s over the wants of many ethnic minorities who can trace themselves back to historic communities and heritage sites that were uprooted for those large homes to be built. Behind those signs is a place that is hardly less segregated than one of the most segregated cities in America. All of this needs to change before we consider ourselves “the Best Place — For All.”

Right now, we are “The Best Place — For Some.”

A Cultural and Biological Anthropology student based in the Washington, D.C. area

A Cultural and Biological Anthropology student based in the Washington, D.C. area