Published in: Teachers College Record

Full Title: Eco-Apartheid: Linking Environmental Health to Educational Outcomes


Background/Context – The issue of how to achieve a racially diverse student population has become increasingly challenging since a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court split decision endorsed the importance of creating diverse schools, while simultaneously limiting the assignment to public schools based on an individual student’s race or ethnicity. The article examines innovative efforts at achieving racial integration in Berkeley, California, as well as other district efforts in New York City, to curtail the dangers associated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in school building materials and develop plans to remediate contaminated school buildings.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: In this article, the author draws on the disciplines of environmental sociology, critical race theory, and social epidemiology to examine the relationship between school desegregation, environmental inequality, structural racialization, and health and educational outcomes. The author proposes a conceptual framework for linking environmental health to educational outcomes that considers the dynamic social processes through which social and environmental inequalities—and associated health and educational disparities—are produced, reproduced, and transformed.

Setting: Berkeley Unified School District has achieved substantial integration in a city where neighborhoods are polarized by racial-ethnic, socioeconomic status, and environmental inequality. Moreover, the Berkeley integration plan was upheld in 2009 by the state appellate court, a decision that the California Supreme Court allowed to stand. As a result, the Berkeley Unified School District’s plan to maintain diversity could serve as a national model for other public schools that are seeking constitutionally sound desegregation programs.