August 6, 2020 | Posted in:Education Policy

This summer, based on my reading of White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, I began to research our local history with desegregation. I am a white Teacher Librarian. Why am I teaching my students that desegregation is something that happened in the past, somewhere else, when some of my students arrive at school on a bus each day? How have I lived with that cognitive dissonance for five years? 

Many of my own students arrive at my school on a bus each morning. Well, they did prior to Covid-19. I realized, too recently I’m afraid, that I cannot teach about desegregation as something that happened in the past to my students. They experience it every day. We like to call it something else, however. In our District we refer to the program as VTP. In the online comments section of our local paper I see commenters say “Tinsley kids.” These are my students, like any of my other students. They simply have a much longer morning and afternoon. I’ve taken their bus ride.  I know. The bus ride can be over an hour each direction, even though they are just crossing the freeway.

I set about researching the Tinsley Settlement that provides the lottery that allows some of them to attend school in the District in which I teach. I began to form a website to collect my research to share with others. My reading focused on race – my race – and education in my immediate geographic area: the Mid-Peninsula: from San Carlos through Palo Alto. At first I was just keeping an annotated bibliography, like any good librarian. The more I read, the more I realized that there was a story to be told. Pursuing primary sources became the focus of the remainder of my summer.  

I hope to use this dusted-off WordPress site to share the research I have found, and as an avenue for listening. Here I hope to use all three aspects of my professional identity: Teacher, Librarian & Writer in service of educational equity.  We don’t have it. That is not a bold statement. It’s a fact. In this blog post, I will briefly review the history of school segregation in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. 

There is no law creating segregation by race in our public schools from San Carlos through Palo Alto. Yet, there is a Settlement requiring desegregation of those schools that has been in effect since 1986. In this blog post I will attempt to summarize what I found. More detailed descriptions and primary sources, links to data, along with a bibliography, can be found at this website .

Let me first describe the Tinsley Settlement. It is a Voluntary Transfer Program set up between Ravenswood City School District and 9 (now 8) of the defendants. Only Redwood City Schools have met the criteria set forth to exit the Tinsley Desegregation Settlement requirements in the last forty years. That requirement is 60 percent students of color within school district boundaries. Each year a lottery is held for Ravenswood City School District Kindergarten, First or Second grade students of color who wish to transfer to a neighboring District.  Sixty students are chosen to attend PAUSD, 31 for Belmont Redwood Shores, 26 for San Carlos, 24 for Menlo Park City School District, 12 for Las Lomitas, 8 for Portola Valley and 5 for Woodside. Letters are sent from Ravenswood City School District notifying non-minority parents in those school Districts that they may apply for transfers into Ravenswood School District. 

To understand how school segregation came about I had to understand how residential segregation had come about in Menlo Park, Palo Alto and East Palo Alto, since our schools are largely, still, neighborhood schools. 

The Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce had tried to segregate “the Oriental and colored people of the city” in the 1920s. Despite support from the Palo Alto Times, the American Legion and others, the measure did not pass. However in 1954, when a black man, William A Bailey, actually purchased a home in all-white Palo Alto Gardens, 125 people suddenly showed up to an evening Palo Alto Gardens Improvement Association Meeting concerned that their property values would decline.

Larry Bailey, William’s son, recalled the Gentleman’s Agreement that formed that evening this way, “not against the law at the time, but that there was a Gentlemen’s Agreement between the White residents to let this so-called Board review whoever was purchasing a home to see if they were acceptable candidates to join the community, if they were acceptable as far as race, I presume. That’s typically what those unwritten agreements are.” (KPLY radio, 2017) The neighbors pooled $3,750 to offer him an incentive to leave. 

Racial covenants like this cropped up all over the Mid-Peninsula. At the same time, East Palo Alto had been red-lined, which means that buyers could not get mortgages there – banks would not loan since they would not be federally insured –  even if they could afford a home. Black families who could afford homes, were directed away from Palo Alto to East Palo Alto, where there were mostly rentals, therefore denying their families the ability to accrue equity at the same rate white families were able to in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. The Office of Civil Rights has extensive documentation from it’s 1960 report on Palo Alto and the inability of Black families to purchase homes in Palo Alto even when they had the money. 

In Belle Haven, part of Ravenswood City School District, a practice called block-busting was commonplace. A realtor would go to a white homeowner, tell him that a black family was about to move in, therefore, ostensibly, property values were about to tank. The Realtor would buy the house at a deep discount. He would then turn around and sell it to a Black family at an inflated price – earning commission on both transactions.

It was in this residential setting that the schools in East Palo had become nearly all Black and the schools in Palo Alto and Menlo Park had become nearly all white in the course of a few years. Given that fewer homes on the east side of 101 had mortgages guaranteed by the Federal government, the property tax base – where there were more white owners, and students – was larger on the West side of the freeway. 

The Office of Civil Rights and the NAACP had taken notice of our segregated high schools. The NAACP was asked to review the boundaries. 3,700 neighbors of all races signed a petition asking that the boundaries be re-drawn along Willow Road, as that would create a more diverse student body both racially and economically. However, the School Board, and some vocal neighbors to the West, voted to keep the boundaries as they were. The NAACP named 101 between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto “The Concrete Curtain” in 1957.

By 1970, Ravenswood High School had become 94% African-American. Reports were that up to 200 elementary students were involved in a Sneak-Out Program, an only partially concealed method whereby families would enroll children in nearby districts by listing them in other households. Again, inequity – and racial segregation – between our schools was under the spotlight.

The Sequoia Union High School District embarked upon a radical plan to integrate Ravenswood High School as a model magnet school. Classes were designed to appeal to white students: scuba diving, Hebrew, Russian, organic gardening, and rock climbing. A record 400 white students signed up to be bussed to Ravenswood High for the first year of the program. The school performed West Side Story and Coretta Scott King visited. But, within four years, enrollment had declined, like elsewhere in the Bay Area, and the School Board had to close a high school.

Ravenswood High School closed in 1974. All the EPA students were divided up and bussed to the Districts remaining high schools. East Palo Alto still does not have a public high school.

The next year, 1975, the Midpeninsula Task Force for Integrated Education formed with 33 parents from Ravenswood City School District. This group eventually became the plaintiffs for the Tinsley Class Action lawsuit, which claimed unequal access to educational resources for their students. The three lawyers representing the case knew one another through Rotary and two were trustees of Ravenswood. There were nine named defendants: San Mateo County Office of Education, Santa Clara County Office of Education, Redwood City School District, Palo Alto City School District, Menlo Park City School District, Belmont Redwood Shores, Portola Valley SD, Woodside Elementary SD, and Las Lomitas Elementary SD. Margaret Tinsley was chosen as the named plaintiff. Judge Lanham of the California Superior Court got the case and spent the next nine years in negotiations with all parties.

As recorded, the final settlement has three main goals: to increase the number of minority students in the 8 mostly all-white districts, to improve educational standards of the Ravenswood City School District and to improve inter-District cooperation.

Thirty-four years after the settlement, it is clear to me that, other than Redwood City School District, the other defendants remain mostly all-white districts. Looking at the School Accountability Report data I have collected here, it is also clear to me that schools with more white students have better paid teachers and, for the most part, higher per-pupil spending in our geographic area.

Given the fact that we have been here so many times historically on the mid-Peninsula – and yet have failed to achieve equity in our schools, I want to ask this question: What would equity look like? And, how can we get there? I will ask those who will be kind enough to answer and let me share their answers.

In my next blog post, Dr. Julian Crocker, the PAUSD Superintendent (1985-1989) at the time of the Tinsley Settlement answers that question, and helps me understand school funding. You might be surprised by his answer to What Would Equity Look Like? I was.


  1. Gail Bradley
    August 6, 2020

    This is great research, Kristin. I look forward to your next post. I hope we can find a way to provide more equity between the east and the west sides of 101. It is imperative that we do if we are to move forward in the fight for racial and social justice.

  2. Liz Motter
    August 6, 2020

    Impressive. Understand our history will help us strive for a better today and future.
    Liz Motter

  3. Alice M.
    August 6, 2020

    Before 1974, my family had experience with the sneak-out program in Palo Alto.

    The “mostly all-white” comment you had about Redwood City and the other “defendants” today may not be accurate. How are you defining “white?”

    You might include information on Ladera and how it aggressively drove out the first Black family to buy there and what Ladera’s demographics are today. Also of note, the important work by the Duvenecks and other Palo Alto Quakers to help local Asian families before, during, and after WWII. They helped make Palo Alto much more welcoming to some newcomers than many nearby communities.

    Another factor in this area’s residential subdivisions’ legacies and similar factors causing school segregation by race, religion, physical/mental abilities, languages understood, and family income that is rarely discussed are the impacts from the pre-1900 big “country” estates and the many Catholic families settling in the Menlo Park area before WWII when they had faced discrimination in the bedroom communities, some employers, and country clubs, especially further north up the Peninsula. That led not just to the Menlo Circus Club but also the walled and fenced St. Patrick’s Seminary, the local Catholic lower and prep schools in Menlo Park, and every year an increasing number of higher walls around many residential properties on both sides of Highway 101.

    Some of those walls were around the large private estates in Menlo Park and Atherton built before 1900 such as the old Nevada Comstock Silver -funded Flood estate along Middlefield (now called Lindenwood). Having been in the real estate business for over 45 years, I’ve noticed more walls on both sides of 101 built **after** 1975. Ever more walls were built in EPA after the influx of more Spanish-speaking people after 1980 and also the growing Tongan community. Us v. them. Them v. us. Each group self-segregating in their churches and other social groups.

    What might EPA, Menlo Park, and Atherton be like today if such residential walls were forbidden by city and county codes? There are still enclaves of county lands all over southern San Mateo County. It has only been a eye-blink of time since EPA incorporated as a city taking control of its land use zoning away from its County.

    What will happen to land values (and thus public school funds) in EPA and Redwood City if BART or other tracked mass transit is allowed to use the swing bridge south of the Dumbarton Bridge, with a new EPA downtown built by the Facebook HQ, and then run to the Caltrain Station in downtown Redwood City along the still open rail line land through Friendly Acres? BART opened this year new stations in Milpitas and San Jose. That new BART line will happen in San Mateo County sooner or later. What will that do to the schools if students can use that instead of buses?

    How to end all segregation of all kinds to have true “equality” here? Every time I pass by the site of the old Ravenswood High School I ponder that question. I’ve watched school “scores” rise and fall and rise again on both sides of Highway 101. I watched Chris Bischoff start an after school basketball & homework program that became Eastside Prep, a kid I knew when he was a young teen long before he dreamed of there being a high school back in EPA. Now, I watch what Loreen Jobs with her Emerson Collective and the Chan/Zuckerbergs are trying to do in EPA; and the results of some of EPA’s existing neighborhood private, church and charter schools where I’ve been a volunteer teacher at 3 EPA schools (1 Catholic, 2 charters). I watch the news from the public EPA school district of more school closings and staff cut-backs.

    This Autumn school term with shifting pandemic procedures is a golden opportunity for our local schools and other active community groups to join forces to create new ways to pool all our community resources and creativity for the benefit of all students. Now or never. Who will lead into the future?

  4. Shirley Klock
    August 7, 2020

    I look forward to reading more. And am glad you are shedding light on this recent and continuing struggle for equity.

  5. Patricia
    August 9, 2020

    This was fascinating. Filling in some information I had only a limited understanding of. One of my dear teaching colleagues who has retired from teaching was one of two African Americans to graduate from PALY in 1968. Her experience of high school was so different from mine. I graduated from a racially mixed high school in Southern California in 1978). I remember when I was excited to be attending my 20th reunion and she was not going to her 30th reunion. She had gone to one reunion and her white classmates said Are you Barbara or ________ ( the other African American girls name). That was the last reunion she ever attended. I have not forgotten that story twenty years later and often think about it when I see PALY.

  6. Chiristine Schooley
    August 9, 2020

    Go Kristin! Good on you – very interesting!


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)