“All the problems started when they took prayer out of the schools!”
Perhaps you have heard people voice this statement when trying to explain the problems of public education within the Afrikan in America context. Perhaps it’s a statement that you have expressed or believe yourself. While it’s debatable that the prohibition against prayer was the downfall of public schools, it’s a certainty that the Supreme Court’s ruling against coercive public school-prayer and Bible reading was a turning point in American public education.
And that turning point took place in Baltimore City, Maryland. More specifically, it took place at Woodbourne Jr. High School which eventually became Chinquapin Middle School. The historical record reveals the following:
In 1960, another law suit was filed against the city school system which also would be nationally historic. Madalyn Murray filed a lawsuit in which she asserted that it was unconstitutional for her son William to be required to participate in Bible readings at Baltimore public schools. In this litigation, she claimed that her son’s refusal to partake in the Bible readings, at the Woodbourne Jr. High School (now Chinquapin Middle school), had resulted in violence being directed against him by classmates, and that administrators overlooked it (after his conversion to Christianity, William publicly stated that these were fraudulent assertions). In 1963, this suit (amalgamated with the similar “Abington School District v. Schempp”) reached the United States Supreme Court, which voted 8-1 in her favor, effectively banning coercive public school prayer and Bible-reading at public schools in Baltimore and the United States.[SOURCE]
This school not only holds importance in the historical sense, but in the culture of the people of Baltimore it had a special place as well. For many, Chinquapin Middle School was probably best known for its dramatic presentations, performances, and musical concerts; a tradition that continued even up until last year.
However, with today being the first day of school in Baltimore City, the first revelation of the academic year is that historic Chinquapin Middle School is no more. Dr. Andres Alonso, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, along with the School Board decided earlier this year to close the school and give the building to an operator from Anne Arundel County. Despite little significant input from the community and a decision characterized by a school CEO described as “overbearingly authoritarian” by a national report, the move to close Chinquapin was championed by the power brokers of Baltimore over the objections of the people who live in the neighborhood of the school. (Just another example of how we don’t control the institutions in our own communities!)
It will likely be a halting site for some to walk past the building and still see the outline of the word “Chinquapin” above the door. With time the outline will likely wear away, but the new name won’t. Baltimore IT Academy has a new operator from a different county, new staff, new administrators, and a new culture which Alonso and his board believe will improve the educational outcomes for the students. That is yet to be seen.
Though they’ve scrubbed the name and scrapped the history of this school’s place in the ethos of Baltimore (Chinquapin Middle has even been deleted from Wikipedia already!); may the People’s History of Baltimore City record in one of its chapters the courageous actions of everyday people who stood up when their schools were being closed down and demanded that their voice be heard – even if not heeded.