Bogie, Bradley and Busing
The Story of Pinellas County School Integration: A nine-part series exclusive to the Gabber
By James A. Schnur
Part 8: Moving Forward, One Bus Stop at a Time
By the mid-1970s, tensions escalated with the federal busing mandate. The majority of students in some zones refused to attend their assigned schools. A white student attacked an attorney with the American flag as the lawyer left city hall, while parents angrily rallied, marched and protested. Authorities canceled football games out of caution. What happened?
Welcome to Boston. These incidents happened in Massachusetts, not Florida.
While tensions boiled over in other parts of the country, Florida counties made substantial progress during the 1970s, moving away from the segregated system of the past and toward unitary status. Gus Sakkis replaced Nicholas Mangin as county school superintendent in June 1972. Sakkis provided stability to a district that had six superintendents in seven years. He held the office for nine years.
Although the situation improved in most Pinellas schools, lingering hostilities sometimes erupted at Boca Ciega High. A stabbing and cafeteria fight at the beginning of February 1973 morphed into a race riot a few days later that involved more than 400 students, some carrying rocks, sticks and chains. Less than 500 of Bogie’s 2,200 students remained on campus by the end of that violent day.
Racial unrest resumed in mid-April 1973. On Friday, April 13, 150 Black students who came to campus refused to go to class. Some fights occurred, students sought refuge in classrooms, administrators tried to diffuse the situation and police swarmed the campus soon after.
However, over the next few years, tensions mellowed as Bogie’s enrollment soared. By the time John C. Demps became Boca Ciega’s principal in mid-1976, nearly 2,800 students attended the school. A Black educator who led Bogie during a difficult time, Demps maintained an “open-door policy.” As Baby Boomers cycled through high school, enrollment dropped from 2,828 in 1974 to 1,853 in 1979.
“Seminole Schools” and the Limits of Busing
Busing remained a necessity because residential communities were still strongly segregated by race. When the 1971 federal court order went into effect, the plaintiffs and county knew that it made little sense to bus students from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs to maintain racial balance. For purposes of busing for desegregation, a line generally following Ulmerton Road separated busing zones for north and south county.
This line dipped across Lake Seminole before heading west across the Gulf Beaches. White students living south of the line might find themselves re-zoned for a two-year visit to a school in southern St. Petersburg; those in the north did not cross the line for the purpose of maintaining racial balance. This explains why students in North Redington Beach attended Lakeview Elementary School near Lake Maggiore from 1973 to 1975 instead of Madeira Beach Elementary.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, classified ads appeared in some newspapers touting “Seminole Schools.” They announced homes for sale or rent by praising the high quality of “Seminole Schools.” This subtle message had racial overtones. While many excellent schools did exist in that part of the county, the couched meaning was that a move to the property protected children from “forced busing.”
Did it work? By 1980, Boca Ciega, Gibbs and Lakewood high schools approached – and sometimes exceeded – the court-imposed tipping factor of 30%. By comparison, fewer than 4% of the students attending overcrowded double sessions at Seminole High were Black. When Osceola High School opened in the fall of 1981, the new campus sat on the other side of the line, meaning Black students from Bogie and Lakewood rode buses to Osceola.
Busing remained unpopular among parents. During the oil embargo and fuel shortages of the 1970s, parents growled that busing should end – unless those buses transported their children to a nearby school. Despite hiccups, a new wave of “white flight” never occurred. Black students sometimes benefited, but they also paid a high price, one that frequently included a different type of academic “segregation” from their friends across the street.
Stand at any major intersection in St. Petersburg’s Black community in the late 1970s, such as where 16th Street South meets 22nd Avenue. Imagine four friends, all the same age, each of them living in a different quadrant from that point. Unlike white students who might board a bus for two years for a trip into St. Petersburg then return to their “home” school with their friends, these Black students had an entirely different experience.
One of them might walk to Lakeview Elementary, then take buses to Tyrone Middle and Dixie Hollins High. The friend to the east hopped on buses to 74th Street Elementary, Azalea Middle and Pinellas Park High. The pal on the north side of 22nd Avenue went to Shore Acres Elementary, Meadowlawn Middle and Northeast High. Finally, the last friend caught buses to Gulfport Elementary, Disston Middle and Boca Ciega High.
Four friends who could probably wave to one another from their homes, yet never would they cross paths in the same school hallway, compare notes about their favorite teachers, play on the same junior varsity team or attend the same graduation ceremony.
Choice Schools and GOALS Setting
At both the federal and state levels, a commitment to achieving racial integration declined during the Reagan administration. Locally, the growing racial imbalance north and south of the mid-county busing line made it increasingly difficult for some St. Petersburg schools to stay below the court-mandated 30% tipping factor.
Rather than petition the courts to abandon their commitment to the busing plan, the district worked with the NAACP to modify the court order in June 1982. A floating quota allowed some south county schools to exceed the 30% threshold. During this time, administrators sought to attract white students from north Pinellas by creating the first substantial high school magnet programs.
Gibbs High School became home of the Artistically Talented Program, with an innovative curriculum that included dance, music and theater. St. Petersburg High School received permission to host the Program for the Academically Talented that later became the county’s first International Baccalaureate program. By 1984, drowsy students in the Tarpon Springs and East Lake areas started catching buses at 5 a.m. for long trips to St. Petersburg.
Boca Ciega and Dixie Hollins received a different type of magnet program. In January 1986, they launched the GOALS (Graduation Options: Alternatives to Leaving School) pilot program in partnership with the district’s Alternative Education office. GOALS teachers focused on cohorts that had suffered from failing grades, low grade point averages, and discipline or attendance issues.
Next week, we end our journey on this bus ride through history. Join us as we watch a new Boca Ciega campus take shape during the new millennium and assess how Pinellas schools continue to strive for inclusion and diversity.
James A. Schnur graduated from Boca Ciega High as a member of the inaugural class that experienced Pinellas school desegregation from first through twelfth grades. To comply with court-ordered busing, he rode the bus for four of those years. He’s written five books about Pinellas communities and has also lectured and published about Florida and Florida education history.