Child's school enrollment isn't black or white

Filed under: Tweens, In The News, Day Care & Education

Vanessa Lovelace and her son Lenny were both excited about enrolling him in his new school in Kenosha, Wisconsin until it came to actually filling out the enrollment forms. In the section where it asked what race/ethnic group the child belonged to, none of the available options fit 10-year-old Kenny. Lovelace was asked to choose from Asian/Pacific Islander, Black not Hispanic, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska native, or White not Hispanic. Since Kenny is biracial with one white parent and one black, Lovelace checked both Black and White boxes.

That didn't go over well with the secretary at the Kenosha Unified School District's Educational Support Center. "She handed the form back to me and said I had to pick one, otherwise, someone would pick his race for me," Lovelace said. District policy dictates that if the race of the child is not indicated by the person filling out the form, an "observer identification" must be made. By that logic, Kenny Lovelace looks white, so he is white.

How is it that a form with such a narrow field of choices should even exist? According to Patrick Gasper, of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, a multi-racial category has been allowed since 2007, but that change won't go into effect for all Wisconsin public school districts until the 2010-11 school year.

If you are wondering why the school even needs to have a check box for a child's race, Gasper explains that as well. He says that racial demographic data is gathered by the federal government and can indirectly affect funding for certain programs. He encourages parents in the district to choose a race even if it is incorrect, otherwise their child cannot be enrolled in school.

With the change allowing a biracial checkbox not going into effect for several years, Lovelace is considering her options. She is thinking about moving back to Illinois, where Kenny attended school last year, or even homeschooling him. But in the end, it is Kenny who is stuck in the middle and feeling like the odd one out. "It made me feel kind of weird," he said. "I'm sad because I'm not only one race. I'm black and I'm white."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.