Sixty years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreed that racial segregation of children in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
That was a defining moment in American history, and in the life of the South.
And while Brown vs. the Board of Education, which stemmed in part from the Briggs vs. Elliott case in Summerton, S.C., didn't fully integrate public schools, it set the stage for the civil rights movement. Its enduring, positive effects have gone far beyond the classroom.
Today's anniversary of the landmark decision is a good time to consider what still needs to be done to ensure everyone is treated equally in and out of public schools.
Here in Charleston, this occasion provides an opportunity to talk about what local schools have done toward providing every child the opportunity for an equal - and more than "adequate" - education.
As local public schools advocate Jon Butzon points out on today's Commentary page, large and troubling racial achievement gaps in Charleston County and elsewhere, particularly in reading, show that we are still falling far short of equal educational outcomes.
It's troubling that students continue to be separated by a racial gap on their test scores, rates of graduation and rates of expulsion.
Clearly, learning must begin earlier for students considered at risk of failing, and special reading programs should target children who are at an academic disadvantage. Charleston County's strengthened focus on literacy offers great promise.
And families are being given a growing array of choices regarding their children's schools: Those zoned to attend a failing school can opt to go to a successful school. Those with special needs or special gifts don't have to be bound by attendance lines. And if enough people work hard enough, they can establish their own public charter school to meet their children's needs.
Districts need to search harder for ways to narrow the gaps, and parents need to do the tough work involved in helping their children succeed.
Stall High School graduate Tim Scott, the first black U.S. senator from the South since the late 1800s, on Friday issued a statement that aptly hailed the Brown vs. Board ruling while acknowledging the remaining challenges in fulfilling its aims:
"Our nation is indebted to the parents, community members, organizations and attorneys involved in the various cases resulting in Brown vs. Board. I think specifically about the parents and their determination to demand more for their children. They are an inspiration.
"We also remember that education is one of the strongest opportunities that too many children trapped in chronically failing schools are denied. I hope this anniversary reminds everyone to recommit themselves to the vital work of providing true opportunity to all, regardless of background."
It's tempting to look back 60 years and feel satisfied with the transformation of American society toward greater racial fairness -and not just at school.
Brown vs. Board of Education was a giant step forward. Because of it, American children have greater access to a quality education in public schools.
This uplifting ruling's legacy should continue to inspire efforts to overcome ongoing educational challenges.
For example, in rural South Carolina, public education is too often hampered by an insufficient local tax base.
In the spirit of Brown vs. Board, the General Assembly should tackle that problem with overdue reform of school funding statewide to help boost educational equity and achievement.
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