DC: Controversy Over ‘Residency Fraud’ Reminds me of the History of Racism Surrounding Duke Ellington H.S.
Tanzi West Barbour
July 31, 2018

I promise you that I am not the guru on all things that happen in D.C. However, it seems that recently I do have experience with or information about current news events. Call it a coincidence or activities in my life coming full circle. Either way, I find myself connected to recent stories.

And here’s another one: the ongoing accusations of residency fraud at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, my alma mater. My old stomping grounds. The place that, as a native Washingtonian traveling across the city every morning from Anacostia, made you proud to say you go to school in Georgetown. Because back then Georgetown was pretty much as it is now – predominately white and rich. And probably still filled with people who want Duke Ellington for themselves and their kids only.

They, the residents, used to hate seeing us get off of the bus from either the 30 bus line or the D bus line and walk two blocks to school in the morning. We could tell they hated it because they would roll their eyes. They would call the school as soon as we walked past their homes and describe what we are wearing to the school secretary and saying we were being “disruptive” as we walked to school. We were “loud” and, clutching my pearls, “laughing.”

They simply didn’t like us.

It wasn’t just the residents, some of the people working in the neighborhood businesses didn’t like us either. I remember a group of us went to Pizza Hut on Wisconsin Avenue for lunch one day and the waitress boldly confessed “I don’t wait on niggers. They wait on me” and refused to serve us.

Needless to say, lunch was free that day and no one dared to patronize that establishment again. It’s out of business now. It could be because Black money is also green money and you need that to survive in the world, and in Georgetown.

So, I’m not surprised Jay Mathew’s article in the Washington Post mentions assumptions of Georgetown residents wanting Duke Ellington for themselves and that perhaps this residency fraud thing is a political ploy to somehow get the school to close and reopen as Western High School, a zoned DC public school that once occupied the space where Duke Ellington is now. Western would serve the student population in Georgetown and the immediate area. Right now, according to the article, “Ellington’s student body is 77 percent black, 11 percent Hispanic, 7 percent white, 2 percent Asian and 3 percent multiracial. Most students are from low-income families. Applicants have to audition.”

So, Duke Ellington not a zoned-school. It’s a school that’s opened to all D.C. residents. You just have to audition to get in. If Duke Ellington was to become Western High School again, those student demographics would surely completely change. Low-income Black and brown kids would be forced to stay on their side of the city.

Residency fraud is not anything new with any of the D.C. public schools, as one comment said in response to the article. Yes, it’s real here just as it’s real in other school districts across the country. The “aha” takeaway here should be that parents are being forced to lie about where they live in order to find quality educational options for their children.

I could get on a school choice soap box here, but I won’t. I will just point you to story of Kelli Williams-Bolar, a mom in Ohio who was arrested for sending her kids to a school in the zoned area where she used to live with her father. Her father was arrested as well on charges of helping her lie. He died while in jail.

This thing is real. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the idea of the residency fraud issue at Duke Ellington being a political ploy. As the article suggests, this comes up every few years or so for this school. Here’s what I do know, as a Black student who rode the bus for an hour every morning leaving southeast D.C. to go to school, to get back on the bus to go home when school ended at 5:30 pm each day, the hatred for us being there was real. The stares, the comments, the advocacy to get rid of us was real. And honestly, I really don’t think anyone has the authority to refute personal experience – especially from behind the desk at city hall or a newspaper.

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