VICC | St. Louis Public Radio


(Aug. 14, 2019) Veronica Johnson (at left) and Maalik Shakoor joined Wednesday's talk show to discuss St. Louis' school desegregation and busing program. Hope Rias joined the conversation by phone.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

As Joe Biden and Kamala Harris clashed in the Democratic presidential debates over the issue of busing, viewers may have thought of these programs as being in the past. That’s not the case in St. Louis — the city has the longest-running and largest desegregation program in the nation. 

Now in its 38th year, the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation has bused more than 70,000 inner-city black students to predominantly white schools in the suburbs – and has also allowed white students living in the county to attend magnet schools in the city. It entails long bus rides as well as necessary but not always comfortable adjustment to new social circles.

St. Louis city students ride a Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation, VICC, school bus on May 11, 2017.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Applications for the St. Louis school desegregation program are decreasing, yet there’s still more demand than open slots.

At its height in the early 1990s, the program that started in 1982 as the result of lawsuit bused more than 13,000 black St. Louis students to predominantly white schools in St. Louis County. A smaller number of white students came into the city to attend St. Louis Public magnet schools.

The Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation — or as it’s more commonly know, VICC — has been winding down since a settlement in 1999, but it’s lived on through extensions.

Hanna Woods Principal Patrick Shelton, Parkway Superintendent Keith Marty and St. Louis Children's Hospital emergency medicine director Dr. Kimberly Quayle brief members of the media on the condition of the children involved in a bus crash May 11, 2017.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Thirteen St. Louis elementary school students received minor injuries Thursday when their school bus crashed through a guardrail and ran down an embankment on Interstate 44. The bus driver, who police said swerved to avoid a car, was hospitalized but not seriously injured.


All but one of the students had been discharged from St. Louis Children’s Hospital by early afternoon. They live in St. Louis and were headed to a Parkway district school, where they are enrolled through the region’s voluntary desegregation program.

Jerome Morris is the Endowed E. Desmond Lee Professor of Urban Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He's standing next to his bookshelf in his office on Feb. 6, 2017.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

With St. Louis’ voluntary desegregation program on its final extension, University of Missouri-St. Louis education professor Jerome Morris has been asked to recommend the best way for the region to continue fulfilling the promises of Brown vs. Board of Education.

To fulfill that task, Morris is first researching how well the program has done in the past.

La'Shieka White talks about the lawsuit involving her son, Edmund Lee, on May 4, 2016. Attorney Joshua Thompson is at left.
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

The African-American student who was barred from attending a St. Louis charter school after his family moved to St. Louis County is pressing his case in federal appeals court, arguing that the agency that administers the city-county transfer plan is violating his constitutional rights.

The family of Edmund Lee filed suit this year, claiming racial discrimination. He had attended Gateway Science Academy while his family lived in St. Louis, but when they moved to Maryland Heights, the school said he could no longer attend.

school buses

After area school superintendents voted Friday to phase out the current race-based student transfer program – and possibly replace it with a new one down the road – those who have been part of the program so far cited a lot of reasons it should continue.

Harlan Hodge, a city resident who graduated in 1992 from Parkway North High School, put his experience this way:

“The kids at our school, the teachers lovingly embraced us the same way they have everywhere else. It really became about excellence. I’m as committed to Parkway as I was 25 years ago when I started. I believe in the school district. I believe in teachers. I believe in our education. It was a great experience.”

KB35 | Flickr

If the voluntary student transfer program that has served more than 70,000 St. Louis area students over more than 30 years is going to continue beyond 2036, it probably will be based on a factor other than race.

At a meeting Friday, the board that oversees the program is expected to approve a final five-year extension that would begin phasing out the transfers in the 2023-24 school year. Students who begin kindergarten that year could remain through high school graduation.

school buses

School officials could extend the life of St. Louis’ interdistrict desegregation program indefinitely by switching from racial to economic transfer criteria. 

That is the consensus of education and legal experts here and around the country. 

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 22, 2013 - Now that hundreds of students have started their long bus rides from Normandy and Riverview Gardens to accredited districts, can they expect to have greater academic success in their new schools?

Nothing is certain, of course, but educational research – and the long experience the St. Louis area has with the voluntary desegregation transfer plan – suggest that where students attend class can have a definite positive effect on how much they learn.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 17, 2013: The new superintendent of Normandy schools had a lot of positive things he wanted to talk about Wednesday night, but much of the district’s board meeting was spent trying to counteract something negative – Normandy’s reputation for being unsafe.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 5, 2013- As parents in Riverview Gardens and Normandy are looking around for the best accredited school district for their children to attend this fall, lawmakers are pondering what changes, if any, they might make to the school transfer law next year.

Though Rep. Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles, has asked Gov. Jay Nixon to call a special session to deal with the transfer law, action is most likely to take place when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. At issue is the law, upheld last month by the Missouri Supreme Court, allowing students who live in unaccredited school districts to transfer to nearby accredited ones, with their home district paying the tuition.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 3, 2013 -  David Glaser wasn’t in St. Louis three decades ago during the height of public opposition to the region’s first interdistrict school desegregation program. He’s learning about some of the old outcry as emotions rise in St. Charles County where the Francis Howell District is preparing to take students wishing to transfer there from Normandy.

Francis Howell is acting in the context of a state law requiring districts to educate students wishing to transfer out of unaccredited school systems.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 22, 2013 - An effort to introduce a charge for St. Louis families with a certain level of income who want their children to take part in the voluntary school desegregation program appears to be dead.

At a meeting of the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation, Clayton Superintendent Sharmon Wilkinson introduced a motion on the topic, which had been brought up by her school board last year. But after discussion, no one would second the motion.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 18, 2012 - Families that have a certain level of income would have to pay for their children to take part in the area's voluntary school desegregation plan under a proposal advanced by the Clayton school district.

If it receives approval from all districts in the desegregation plan – and from other parties in the case -- the financial means test would require payment on a sliding scale from families whose income is above that required for participation in the federal free and reduced school lunch program.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 18, 2012 - St. Louis area school districts voted unanimously today to extend the voluntary desegregation program for another five years. But the move does raise another question:

How much longer will the program go on? When, why and how will it end?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 4, 2012 - Data available for the first time have confirmed what officials in charge of the area’s voluntary school transfer program have generally thought: Black students who leave St. Louis to attend suburban schools under the deseg program do better on standardized tests than their counterparts in the city.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 29, 2011 - Don Senti remembers when the first group of St. Louis students in the area's voluntary school desegregation program got off the bus at Parkway South Junior High School, where he was principal.

"When the program started," said Senti, who went on to become superintendent of the Parkway and Clayton schools, "we had 1,500 kids, and every single one of them was white. I don't think we had any Indians, and we certainly did not have any Hispanics.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 10, 2009 - When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial educational segregation was inherently unequal in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, it failed to specify how and by when desegregation should occur.

The court returned to that issue in 1955 and, after a debate about revolutionary change versus evolutionary adjustment, it opted for the latter.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 11, 2009 - The push to improve educational opportunities for minorities and to close the achievement gap between some minorities and whites has become a central issue in the debate about race and education. The drive to close the gap actually took root with the landmark Supreme Court ruling for school desegregation in 1954 and has continued into this decade with the equally far-reaching No Child Left Behind law.