Springfield’s students of color are experiencing something that the Constitution and laws of Massachusetts have long proclaimed intolerable: racially segregated schools. The schools are segregated because the Commonwealth requires students to attend school in the communities where they reside, and those communities are segregated. The state has a duty to remedy the ongoing denial of equal educational opportunity to Springfield’s students of color, and this proposal aims to hold it accountable for that duty.
Devising policies that will produce integrated communities and schools is a task best suited for a diverse body of people with differing areas of expertise, rather than for a court. The remit of the policy-making body should be: (1) to investigate and research the causes of segregation in and around Springfield; and (2) to formulate policies to minimize/eliminate it while fostering economic integration. To give the resulting proposals a chance of success in the Legislature it is essential that the body that drafts them should be an official one with the driving force of the executive behind it. This proposal describes a way establish that special commission if the Governor does not simply do so in response to a request.
There is a state agency that has a legislative mandate to investigate discrimination, including its underlying historic causes, and to design high-leverage remedial policies. That agency is the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and it has the resources, as well as the duty, to take effective action. Accordingly, I propose that a representative group of complainants file a class action with the MCAD and request that the agency recommend that the Governor set up a special commission to operate under the aegis of the MCAD. There is no guarantee that the Legislature will enact the special commission’s proposals. Nevertheless, this method promises to put before the General Court a coherent package of interlocking bills that have the imprimatur of the executive and significantly advance the public debate about how, not whether, we resume the task of building an integrated, inclusive, and just society.
Several states have agencies similar to the MCAD, e.g. the New York Division of Human Rights, so this approach may be generalizable beyond Massachusetts. In addition, because the likely solutions to segregation (e.g. greater regionalization, economic revitalization, human-scale redevelopment, public transportation, and fair housing) are also key elements in building a more just, equitable, sustainable society, organizations such as the Union of Minority Neighborhoods and the NAACP can use the MCAD action to make common cause with groups that do not fall within the traditional category of civil rights.