Good luck to those who have brought a class-action suit against the Philadelphia School District alleging racial and gender discrimination because they say students at Strawberry Mansion High School were blocked and denied access to participating in lacrosse competition as outlined in an article by Valerie Russ.
Jazmine Smith was a lacrosse coach at Strawberry Mansion, and most would agree she was gung-ho and maybe overzealous in trying to get her team in position to compete beyond what she called a “Negro League.” I guess because she was pushy, she is no longer employed by the school district as a coach.
Maybe Smith was a thorn in the side of the district because she had been educated in Radnor and was exposed to academic and programmatic opportunities her team was not getting at Strawberry Mansion. Being schooled in the bucolic suburbs but with roots in North Philadelphia, Smith obviously was aware of the disparities in education in the ’burbs compared with the inner city.
According to the suit, “The District funds, supports and encourages girls at schools like Northeast High to play lacrosse while refusing to make opportunities available to girls of color at schools like Strawberry Mansion.” But, a district representative disputes that charge, saying, “One of our core values as a school district is increasing opportunity in the classroom and the playing field for all our students regardless of race or gender.”
Note the word increasing! Is this an admission that opportunities are not equal and that there is now some attempt to make up for years and years of an apartheid school system?
History tells us lacrosse is the contribution of Native Americans, specifically the Iroquois nation, which occupied much of North America, including Pennsylvania and parts of Canada. Maybe Native Americans still play the intense sport, but living in the heart of central Philadelphia tipping to the north, the only lacrosse I see being practiced is on Temple University’s sprawling athletic fields.
One of these fields used to be the William Penn High School (yet another Native American cross-history reference), which was demolished because, even though it was built in the 1970s, it was so poorly maintained that the school district said it was irreparable. So what replaced the school over the strong objections of community and alumnae is an expansive athletic field where, on many evenings, Temple students practice the sport of lacrosse. However, these budding lacrosse team players bear little resemblance to the population of the rapidly gentrified area of North Broad Street.
I am told these players are largely from schools in the nearby and not-so-nearby suburbs, from the city’s academically gifted schools or from private schools. So to me the class action suit speaks to the overarching reality of what academics and sports programs are made available to whom. Surely, some of the players on the Temple field are on scholarship and were accepted at the school because of their athletic skill. No judgment! But, their skills were developed, in part, because of the training and opportunity to compete they received in their public and private high schools.
But let’s not just focus just on lacrosse; how uniform is the academic curriculum across Philadelphia’s school district? What languages are taught? How much science does a student receive at Overbrook High School, as opposed to Masterman? How many years of algebra are the students in the not-academic-plus schools receiving? And, how many of our high schools offer chemistry?
Maybe this suit, though specifically having to do with the sport given to us by Native Americans, will open our minds to question how are our children are being prepared to go out into the world as doctors, bankers, veterinarians, researchers, teachers, mayors, members of congress and, yes, basketball and lacrosse players.