Jesse Williams Calls Out “Separate and Unequal” Educational System
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Jesse Williams

Jesse Williams Calls Out “Separate and Unequal” Educational System

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How could students in the south of one Florida public school district fail while those in the north exceed expectations?

The answer, depressingly, is racial disparity, as Jesse Williams found out.

The Grey's Anatomy actor and activist joined Dr. Amir Whitaker, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, to investigate the education gap in Pinellas County, Florida, for the EPIX documentary America Divided.

“As former teachers, we sought to understand how student experiences could be so vastly different in a district including some of Florida’s most affluent cities,” they write in a TIME article. “We took a look beyond the beaches, yachts and golf courses to discover what has gone wrong, and what it means for us as a nation.”

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As Jesse and Amir report, the students attending the failing schools in South Pinellas are predominantly black.

“Low test scores, scarce resources, and high teacher turnover are a stark reality in these predominantly black schools,” they write. “It’s a staggering concentration of failure that the U.S. Department of Education, upon visiting Pinellas, called ‘education malpractice’ and a ‘man-made’ disaster.”

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The two men cite startling federal data: Black students are three times more likely to have teachers who have not met all state certification or licensing requirements. And students at predominantly black and Latino schools are also more likely to have first-year teachers.

“The educational system in this country is still separate and unequal,” Jesse and Amir write.

“It’s a system that sets up children of color for failure while simultaneously funneling them into the criminal justice system. It’s a process often referred to as “the school-to-prison pipeline.”

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Thanks to the efforts of community organizers and activists — as well as a civil rights complaint by the Southern Policy Law Center — the tide is changing.

“But [change] will only happen in Pinellas and other communities if people of conscience take a stand together,” they conclude.

Jesse and Amir’s segment of America Divided continues on October 14 at 9 p.m. ET on EPIX.